The Friendship Wealth Gap: it’s a thing

“Shall we just split the bill?”

It’s a story we’ve heard many times before. Ben, who ordered a side of chips and tap water, grits his teeth, while Bill, Olivia and Katie – who polished off two bottles of wine and rib-eye steaks – throw notes into the middle of the table. “And let’s leave a twenty for the waiter too – he’s been really great, hasn’t he?”

The next time they arrange to go out, Ben cancels last minute saying he’s been held up at work. “Let’s definitely do something soon though”, he adds half-heartedly.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that money, or a lack of money, can drive a wedge between friends. It’s something most of us have experienced ourselves to some degree.

But where does it all go wrong? And why? That’s what we wanted to find out.

We used independent survey facilitator Vivatic to question over 1000 people on their experiences with money and friendships. We asked people to self-classify as ‘high earners’ or ‘low earners’ in the context of their friendship groups.

Here’s what we found:

You can’t sit with us: richer friends ditch poorer pals

Sadly, over a third (39%) of richer friends admitted to letting a friendship slide when their lifestyles became incompatible due to earnings. Nearly half (46%) also said they intentionally try to hang out with people who earn a similar amount to them, compared with 39% of low earners.

Mean Girls - you can't sit with us

Nearly half of high earners try to hang out with people who earn a similar amount. Turns out money is more problematic than not wearing pink on Wednesdays.

Fictional Ben’s story is far from exceptional: nearly half (49%) of those who classed themselves as the ‘low earners’ of their friendship group said they had previously turned down plans with better off friends, afraid that things would get too pricey. When they do meet up, 40% feel pressure to tip more than usual.

This doesn’t go unnoticed by the well off half of the group. In fact, nearly half (48%) of high earners said they feel the need to pay for or ‘shout’ friends who earn less than them. In contrast, over a third (37%) of low earners confessed to having left before it was ‘their round’ because they couldn’t afford it.

But hey, money doesn’t matter! (Well, so long as you have it…)

We asked all respondents what impacts a friendship more out of money, having children, political beliefs and where they live.

Here’s what they said:

Low earners
High earners
Political beliefs
Where they live
If they have a child

When it comes to maintaining friendships, it seems that those earning less find money to be the biggest obstacle. High earners, on the other hand, find geography and political beliefs to be the most divisive factors.

Money may talk, but people don’t like to talk about it

Both high and low earners agree that you shouldn’t discuss how much you earn with friends. It was a close call for low earners, though – 48% of them have no problem in discussing their salary with pals.

Low earners are also more likely to tell their friends about a pay rise, although the majority of high earners (61%) would, too.

Money on the mind

It seems that money has more of an impact on our mood and attitudes than we’d care to admit.

Over two thirds (69%) of high earners say their money brings them confidence. More than one in three (36%) admit to feeling smug about being better off than their friends. More than half (52%) said they notice a shift in their friends’ attitudes or personality when they get a pay rise.

In contrast, nearly two thirds (64%) of low earners said their lack of money causes them stress.

Interestingly, both groups said they start worrying about money again within just six months of a pay rise.

It would be great to think that good friendships could transcend material things. Sadly, this survey proves this often isn’t the case.

Lingering resentments, mismatched plans and uncomfortable conversations make for sizeable obstacles in even the best of friendships. It seems that people at both ends of the spectrum would rather avoid the problem altogether by hanging out with people in the same pay bracket as them.

Check out more of our original research:

Horrible Bosses: have you ever imagined killing your boss?

These are the best and worst cities for commuting

Digital nomad? Here’s the best place to be your own boss