Evaluating Earning Discrepancies in Relationships Across the U.S.

Earning Discrepancies

Finances can strain relationships. Whether deciding how much to spend on a major life purchase together or determining who should pay the tab on a date night, money can add another layer of tension to navigating life with a partner.

It muddies the water even further when two people in a relationship aren’t on a level playing field financially. Earning more or less money than your partner can bring out insecurities that can impact your entire relationship.

We surveyed over 2,200 Americans to get to the bottom of it. How does income impact a relationship? Is it typical for partners to have large earnings discrepancies, or do people in similar income levels tend to migrate toward each other? Read on to see what we found.

How Americans Feel About Their Partner’s Financial Status

Turns out insecurities don’t get the best of us, at least not according to the 58.3% of people surveyed who would rather date someone who makes more money than them. Another 36.1% prefer that their partner makes the same amount as them. A slim 5.6% say they would rather make more money than their significant other. 

“When you are in a committed partnership, especially when you’re married, you’re merging your expenses as well as your income. For this reason, it makes sense that couples tend to have a more egalitarian attitude about money,” said BadCredit.org Finance Expert Erica Sandberg. “As long as you can pay the bills and prepare for the future, one person earning more or less is not relevant.”

Gender certainly plays a role in people’s preference for their partner’s financial status. Men are more likely to say they’d prefer a partner who makes the same amount as them (47.5%). One in 10 (11.7%) surveyed would rather have a partner who makes less than them. On the flip side, just 1.8% of women would opt for a partner that makes less than them, if given the choice. 

But when it comes down to it, love conquers all. The vast majority (88.3%) of those surveyed said it wouldn’t make them uncomfortable if their partner made less money than them. Another 95.1% said they wouldn’t care if their partner made more money than them. 

Infographic highlighting survey insights about financial discrepancies in relationships

That’s good news, especially for the 82.6% of Americans who leave it all on the table when it comes to talking finances with their partner. The majority said they typically speak openly about money with their significant other. 

Singles are the most likely to keep some information to themselves — 28.3% say they don’t share financial details in a typical romantic relationship. That’s unsurprising, given that salary isn’t typically a first-date talking point.

In reality, finances do cause strain, even if a couple doesn’t have expectations about how much money their partner is making. Of those surveyed, 29.4% said they’ve experienced tension in a relationship that was a direct result of their partner’s or their own income. 

When it comes to paying the bills, 64.8% believe they should be split rationally to income. That means if one partner makes $100,000 annually while their partner makes $50,000, the first partner should spend double on everything — from the date night tabs to rent and utilities — if they live together. 

As with many things, the part of the country you live in can play a major role in this conversation. We asked people how much they make compared to how much their partner makes across the U.S. Based on that, 6.1% make roughly the same amount as their partner, but locally that can change drastically. 

Below is a snapshot of states with the most financially balanced relationships. 

  • Michigan — 19.2% say they make approximately the same amount of money as their significant other. 
  • New Mexico — 17.7% make a comparable amount to their partner. 
  • Georgia — 14.3% bring in the same amount of money as their significant other. 
  • Kansas — 11.1% earn around the same amount as their partner. 
  • Oklahoma — 10.7% share a similar financial status with their significant other. 

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, many facets of life can complicate a relationship, and money can definitely be one of them. Particularly when two people aren’t on the same page about how and where money should be spent, it can cause substantial long-term issues, despite how strong their romantic connection may be. 

That being said, having a good grasp on your current financial status and a clear plan for the future can go a long way in mitigating the uncertainty and tension associated with navigating finances.

“The more you talk about your feelings toward money, especially earning, spending and saving, the better for both of you,” Sandberg said. “When you are in a loving, respectful relationship, financial differentials shouldn’t matter, but that doesn’t mean that personality doesn’t come into play.”

We’ve cultivated expert advice on how to increase your credit score and set yourself up for success. Check out our guides for more tips. 


We surveyed 2,227 Americans across the U.S. and asked them to report their incomes and their partner’s incomes in their current or most recent relationship. The following states were omitted due to insufficient sample sizes: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Wyoming.