The impact of finances on relationships has long been an area of fascination for me and led me to write The Couple’s Guide to Love and Money, a guide to coping with this often-difficult topic. So I was excited about Match.com’s survey of singles in America, a survey with a healthy portion of money-related questions.
Since the mid-nineties Americans been on a wild economic ride. We experienced giddy euphoria in the late nineties when we started to believe that jobs were becoming obsolete and we all had the Midas touch. Most of us have been humbled since then, as our retirement funds and home values crumbled and frugality has come back into style. I was particularly curious about the attitudes and behaviors of singles in the aftermath of this manic-depressive economy.
Stressed by finances
Nearly three out of ten American singles in this survey (29%) reported that they were “very stressed” by the economy and money concerns and 84% described themselves as at least “slightly stressed” (slightly, somewhat, and very stressed combined). Women feel the stress a little more than men, and economic pressures stay fairly constant until age 65, when there is some relief. These findings are consistent with the American Psychological Association November 2009 survey of stress in America. This survey found finances were the top stressor, described as a significant source of stress for seven out of ten Americans.
Money and gender roles
Over the past fifty years, there have been dramatic changes in gender roles. In the early seventies, as feminist ideas took root, society properly recognized that genders were interchangeable in the workplace – women could do a “man’s job” and men could competently handle jobs traditionally occupied by women. As feminist Wilma Scott Heide cleverly observed, “The only jobs for which no man is qualified are human incubators and wet nurse. Likewise, the only job for which no woman is or can be qualified is sperm donor.” But as economic pressures increased, gender-related choices became gender-related necessities. Many men no longer had the luxury of proclaiming sexist Archie Bunkerisms, “A woman’s place is in the home,” and only in affluent families did women (or men) have room to choose between pursuing a career and being full-time homemakers.
As we climb out of the worst and most widespread economic disaster since the 1930s, have singles’ ideas about dating and roles shifted even further?
Singles were asked to indicate how much they agreed with the statement, “Because of the economy, I am more interested in finding someone to share my life with than before.” I was disturbed by this statement, as it seemed to express an unromantic and uncomfortably pragmatic attitude toward romance. I was relieved to see that four out of five respondents did not endorse romantic involvement as a way to relieve financial pressures and that women were only slightly more likely than men to seek economic relief through a relationship.
Basic tenets of financial gender equality were highly endorsed by both men and women. About three out of four respondents agreed that couples should share household duties and share financial decisions equally, with women only slightly more likely to endorse these concepts than men. Fewer than one in five singles still believe that the woman should be the primary caregiver in the home, with this notion favored only slightly more often by men than by women. While most singles are comfortable with gender equality, role reversal is still not yet completely accepted. Although 45% of men declare they are ready to step up to the challenges of being a “househusband,” the partner primarily taking care of home and childcare duties, only one out of three women say they are ready to accept men in that role.
In spite of social and economic changes, certain male/female roles appear slow to change. The moment when the bill arrives after a first date has become an increasingly awkward moment. Thirty-seven percent of men but only 19% of women believe that it is always the man’s responsibility to pick up the check on the first date. To make matters even more confusing, this tradition may be making a comeback, as the youngest and oldest singles were the most likely to endorse it.
The bottom line is that, as American society evolves and pressures increase we become more diverse in our opinions and traditions. We can no longer assume that our date’s economic views and views of a possibly shared future are the same as ours. More than ever, couples need to share their views about finances and other important issues at the beginning of a relationship and for as long as it lasts. The median single in this survey believed that these important disclosures should come two to six months into a new relationship. The process of coming together is more challenging and requires more communication than ever before. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.
About Dr. Jonathan Rich
Dr. Jonathan Rich received his BA from the University of California, San Diego, his MA from San Diego State University, and his Ph.D. from the California School of Professional Psychology. He is a member of the American Psychological Association, and has been licensed as a psychologist since 1987. He currently maintains a private practice in southern California, specializing in psychological testing and research consultation. He is the author of the self-help book, The Couple’s Guide to Love & Money.
For more information on our “Single in America” study:
- “Everything You Think You Know About Singles is Wrong” by Match.com
- “The Forgotten Sex: Men” by Dr. Helen Fisher
- “Aren’t You Glad You Weren’t Single Fifty Years Ago?” by Professor Stephanie Coontz
- “Why Monogamy Matters” by Dr. Justin R. Garcia
- “Can Love Last?” by Dr. Bianca Acevedo