Dear Economist: My girlfriend’s the rich one, yet I pay…

I’ve been dating a great, loving and caring woman for a year and a half. She’s in her early thirties – eight years older than me – and works as a senior manager in a big company; she earns around £60,000pa, and her company provides a car and a city-centre flat. I am about to finish my PhD and my stipend is £14,000pa.

We’re in love and think it’s about time to move our relationship to the next level – which is moving in together. However, I feel that my girlfriend is stingy towards me. I’m the one who treats at posh restaurants and buys expensive gifts, and when we spoke about me moving into her flat she said that I’d have to pay the bills in return.

I’m finding it silly to mention such things, but they do annoy me. Am I shallow, greedy and opportunist? I understand her pay isn’t supposed to be a perk of our relationship but I must admit that, deep inside, I feel that a better lifestyle out of it wouldn’t go amiss.
Confused student

Dear Confused,

Your girlfriend is testing you, and you are at risk of failing. Naturally she is pleased to have a young, intelligent boyfriend, but she is worried that you only love her for her cash and will dump her for a younger model once you have a decent income of your own.

So she is using a “screen”, as described by Nobel laureate Michael Spence. By ensuring that she remains a cost centre rather than a cash cow, she is creating a situation that would be intolerable to a genuine gold-digger. She wants to see how you react, but by assuming that the “next level” is a free apartment for you, rather than a proposal of marriage, you are simply confirming her fears. Forget the flat, buy her a diamond ring, and she will mellow.

All this assumes, of course, that she is not just a miserly sociopath. Either way, good luck.

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.