The economics of dating during high inflation

How much do people spend on dates? Where do they go? And how has inflation impacted dating life? The Hustle ran a survey to find out.

Beth Bogdewiecz prefers activity dates. She likes getting to know someone beyond conversation, seeing how they react to stress or crowds to better gauge her interest in the potential match.

The economics of dating during high inflation

The problem is the price. In Denver, where she lives, an hour of climbing or pingpong at a bar with appetizers, ends up being ~2x the cost of a standard drinks date.

“There’s always a chance it could turn into more,” she told The Hustle. “On a deeper level, it’s like, ‘Do I want to spend money tonight?'”

Bogdewiecz isn’t alone.

The recent bout of inflation has impacted nearly every component of dating life — food, drinks, transportation — and has added additional financial pressure to courtship. 

The Hustle was curious to learn more about the economics of modern dating life, so we recently surveyed ~700 of our readers on the topic.

How much do people spend on dates? What do they do? How has inflation impacted dating life? And what broader roles do money play in whom we choose to go out with?

A few key findings:

  • How much does the average date cost? $68.
  • How much did the average person spend on dates in 2022? $1,260.
  • How much did the average respondent’s most expensive date cost? $492.
  • Where do people go for a first date? The most popular first date is getting drinks at a bar.
  • Who pays? 83% of men report always paying for the date, while 5% of women report always paying for the date.
  • How has inflation impacted dating? 85% of respondents said dating has gotten significantly more expensive, but only 38% said it has caused them to go on fewer dates.
  •  What role does income play in dating life? Nearly half of respondents said a suitor’s income and/or profession influences whether or not they go on the date.

Let’s take a deeper look at the findings.

Who are these daters?

Among our respondents, six out of 10 reported to have been on the dating scene for three years or less.

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

Likewise, the distribution of date frequency skewed toward the lower end.

Three-quarters of our respondents said they went on 10 or fewer dates last year.

That may seem low, but some researchers have suggested that finding an ideal partner (if that’s the goal) isn’t about sheer volume. According to the “optimal stopping theory,” daters should reject the first 37% of potential matches to maximize their chances of finding the most ideal partner.

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

Where do people choose to go on all these dates?

Overwhelmingly, daters tend to skip the meals and activities and go straight to the bar to meet up for drinks.

That said, many respondents suggested drinks were overplayed, citing costs and the routine nature of a drink. Several preferred a walk or a coffee as a first date before they’d be interested in a drink or dinner. 

  • One person’s favorite date featured variety: They “walked to Whole Foods, purchased popcorn and drinks, sat in the seating area, and watched TikTok and YouTube videos.” 
  • Another was impressed by a guy who bought her a quesadilla instead of a drink. “I loved that gesture,” she said.

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

While the movie date was once a staple of dating culture, only 1% of our respondents said they head to the theaters with a date. This echoes broader trends with the evolution of film watching — though the “Netflix and chill” date at home seems to be equally unpopular.

The cost of dating

So, how much does all this dating cost the average person?

Our average respondent reported spending ~$68 per date — though that average varied wildly across demographics.

The differences were the most dramatic across gender lines. The average man who paid for a date reported spending $87 per date, while the average woman who paid for a date reported spending $48. (Our nonbinary responses were not statistically significant enough to include.)

Predictably, younger daters (Gen Z and millennials) spend less than the average, while more mature daters — particularly Gen Xers — spend more.

As income went up, so too did spending on dates: Those who reported earning $150k+ spent more than twice as much on the average date as those in lower income brackets. 

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

But not all dates are created equal.

We asked our respondents to share the most expensive date they’ve ever been on. On average, the total came in at $492.

They included:

  • A trip to Bangkok ($10k)
  • A weekend trip to Dubai ($5k)
  • A Blue Man Group concert in Vegas followed by dinner, drinks, and a “ginormous” hotel suite ($3k)
  • A nice steak dinner with wine, a concert, and a hotel room ($1k)
  • A hot air balloon ride ($800)
  • Tickets to Hamilton ($750)

Who pays for all these dates?

Our respondents adhered to traditional gender norms: 83% of men reported usually paying for dates, compared to 5% of women, although nearly half of female respondents said they typically split the bill.

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

For both men and women alike, finances seem to play a central role in dating:

  • 47% said a person’s occupation and/or income has dictated whether or not they go on a date with a person
  • 41% said money has dictated the number of dates they go on
  • 37% said they have discussed personal finances during a date
  • 24% say they’ve declined a date due to money

In recent times, inflation has made many daters even more hyper-vigilant about money.

How has inflation affected dating life?

In our survey, 85% of daters said that inflation has made dating noticeably more expensive over the past year.

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

Among the respondents was Rahm Shoshana, a senior at the University of Illinois Chicago with a limited income.

Shoshana has been in a long-distance relationship for nearly a year and said he and his boyfriend have cut back on visits because of higher prices for gasoline and Amtrak. 

When they’re together, they’ve stopped going out to restaurants and movie theaters and opted for grocery shopping dates and Netflix. 

“That is what it is and what it will probably have to be for a very long time for us,” Shoshana said.

Inflation has impacted nearly every component of dating life — especially food, drinks, entertainment, and transportation.

Zachary Crockett / The Hustle

Michael Beale, a Gen Zer, has noticed the price of cocktails — an important component of “Dating 101,” he said — have increased from $12 to $14 where he lives in Connecticut. But he’s still going on dates with his girlfriend, less concerned by inflation because he recently started a higher-paying job. 

At the end of the day, dating seems to be mostly price inelastic — that is, habits tend to stay the same regardless of increases in price: 63% of respondents said inflation hasn’t caused them to go on fewer dates.

And though inflation has made things a bit more challenging for the daters in our survey, only 3% reported that they have walked out and left a date with the tab.

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