The Rise Of The Sugar Mama

Brunette woman holding a phone

Tara*, 42, is a director at a successful software company in the San Francisco Bay area. Over half the men she's dated make less money than her—including her now-husband—and she thinks her relationship is a reality for many women in today's economy. "On average, women still make less than men but, ironically, that also makes them less of a target in a layoff. My guess is that a lot of men with higher salaries have been let go, while the lesser-paid women have kept their jobs, leaving them to be the breadwinners during hard economic times," says Tara.

Rock musician Anand Bhatt, 34, of Chicago, Illinois, has dated women who made less as well as more than him, and says that a woman spending on a man can be sexy.

"I feel like there's a level of respect for the girl and a perceived level of affection from her that is hard to garner otherwise. I recently spent a week with a girl who happily showered me with gifts and always picked up the check and it made me feel like King of the World," says Bhatt.

Plus, ladies with lives of their own are attractive. "With a 'sugar mama' girl, you don't worry about clinginess. You know that successful women have their own endeavors, and have better things to do than become a man-barnacle," says Bhatt. But are sugar mamas replacing sugar daddies altogether? 

You've probably heard the statistic that women make 77 percent of what men make for the same job—and it's true that, on average, men still make more money than women. But the rise of educated women entering professional fields coupled with the fact that the recession hit men harder than women means that more and more, women are out-earning the men they're dating and marrying.

A story in Newsweek magazine documented how two-thirds of the 11 million jobs lost in this recession were occupied by men (some place the number at almost 80 percent), with male-dominated industries like financial services and manufacturing seeing the most job loss. What's more, men who have become unemployed during this recession are more likely to stop looking for work. According to Forbes, "Men are not merely becoming unemployed in greater numbers than ever before. They are actually dropping out of the labor force at greater rates than before." Skip The Soul Mate, Find A Trophy Husband

Another study showed that women tend to be better-educated than men and, as a result, women ages 22 – 30 earn, on average, 8 percent more than their male counterparts. As a writer on Slate's XX blog pointed out, "The main engine fueling this change—the fact that for every two men graduating from college, three women will do the same—is not going to change anytime soon, which suggests that the next many waves of educated women will also out-earn men."

So what is this doing to our relationships? Andrea Syrtash, relationship expert and the author of He's Just Not Your Type (And That's A Good Thing) acknowledges that, "The economy has clearly contributed to more women assuming the role of 'sugar mama.' Yet... the hope is that their male partners are still making significant contributions to the relationship and not just relying on the woman."

But it's not always an easy arrangement. "Being a sugar mama can be a bad thing if a man is not applying himself—to look for work, for example—because some women are bound to feel resentful," says Syrtash. Especially if the man clearly has his eyes on her cash. Such a man may not be easy to spot, however, since successful women aren't usually on the lookout for male gold-diggers.

Melissa, 36, a freelance writer in New York City, was initially drawn in by a man who "went out of his way to present himself as a successful entrepreneur." She had no reason not to believe him, especially because "at first, he offered to pay for everything when we went out." But soon she started to suspect something was going on. "About a month into seeing each other, he admitted that once his 'avalanche of courting' was over, money was going to be tight because he would be pouring all of his income over the next five years into getting his company off the ground." One Man's Reason For Putting Love Before His Career

There were other clues, too. "He seemed a little too hung up on the fact that I had traveled a few times on the Concorde and that I own my place in NYC," Melissa says. "He brought both of these facts up more than once, even when he was introducing me to his friends, like he was trying to show off what I had."

Eventually, it became too much. "Things came to a head when he finally visited me in New York a few months after we started seeing each other. He bombarded me with questions about my financial situation, asking me how much I spend on everything from groceries to the gym. In my entire 15-year history of dating, I have never been with someone who made me feel like the size of my bank account was one of my major selling points, so to speak. I broke it off with C two days after his New York visit."

Of course, dating and marrying a man who has less dough than you isn't always a recipe for disaster. "Men can be very successful and driven and not make as much money as some others in different professions—teaching is a perfect example of this. I think we shouldn't focus on the fact that a man has money; rather, we should look at how he is with money to determine if he will be a good partner for us," says Syrtash.

Amanda*, 44, who is the director of business development for a large media company in Seattle, is a great example of this last point. She says 75 percent of the men she's dated since her late 20s have been her money-earning juniors, but that her previous marriage ended in part because of how her ex-husband spent the money she earned. "I did not follow the credit cards, bank statements or bills. This was a huge mistake. By the time the marriage had eroded and I figured we needed to go our separate ways, he had spent a lot of money on porn, sports memorabilia and other stupid collectibles—Beanie Babies. I kid you not," says Amanda.

When she started dating again, she picked salary peers for partners. "Many times, I would hear, 'Wow you must have gotten a good settlement.' To which I replied, 'No he did,'" says Amanda, who now makes slightly less than her new husband after scaling back her work to spend time with her family.

Adam*, 39, a marketing executive from Portland, Oregon, says his marriage is happily balanced, even though he makes less than his wife, a mid-level manager at a Fortune 500 multinational company. "I know she values me being available to provide support to her and the kids—school pick-ups, drop-offs, doctors' appointments, family dinners and consistency—when she has to work late or travels internationally for work," says Adam. He adds that they're working through some issues related to this imbalance. His wife sometimes feels guilty that he's "saddled" with the kids. He sometimes wishes he could take some financial pressure off of her. Can Powerful Women Find Love?

Even without kids, Syrtash says, emotional support isn't something to be overlooked. "If you look at the popular series Sex and the City, Miranda's character, a lawyer, ended up with a blue-collar bartender. Miranda had a demanding day job and was able to unwind and connect with a guy who wasn't as professionally driven/type A. This made sense to many women in the same position who just want to find a partner who excites, inspires, challenges and supports them," says Syrtash.

When asked if she would recommend avoiding the sugar mama role to avoid money disputes, Tara says: "It's definitely not that simple. There was no question that [my husband] was my soul mate, so not dating him simply wasn't an option. We were madly in love then and, 20 years later, we're still madly in love. We've had a lot of ups and downs, and the money was definitely an obstacle I wish we hadn't had to deal with, but money always causes problems in relationships one way or the other, regardless of who makes more."

Related: 7 Signs He's Dating You For Your Money

*Names changed for privacy

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