Elliot is 45, gainfully employed, lonesome, and looking for a pretty young college girl to spend money on. Ideally he would serve as her benefactor and mentor; she would express gratitude through sexual favors. At the very least she’d accompany him to dinner on a Saturday night and, if she understood the arrangement, give him a peek of those lace knickers he bought her. If all went well between the sheets, he’d even offer to pay her college tuition.
Elliot is fictional, but there are more than 2 million men like him registered as “sugar daddies” on the dating website SeekingArrangement, many of whom are seeking out cash-strapped college students. One sugar daddy who goes by the name “Bigbluewolverine” claims to make $500,000 per year as a private-equity-fund manager, according to his profile, and wants to share this wealth with a destitute student. “With annual university costs where they are how do students these days make ends meet?” he writes, as though attempting to ameliorate the student debt crisis. “I’m here to help.”
"Women hold 60 percent of bachelor degrees and drop out at a lower rate because they are less discouraged by financial burden compared to men," according to promotional material from SeekingArrangement. "Nothing is wrong with having the determination to ask for help. Clearly, more female college students are resourceful in achieving their ultimate goal: to graduate with a degree.”
SeekingArrangement founder and CEO Brandon Wade says that female students account for 44 percent of the site’s so-called “sugar babies”—a classed-up euphemism for “gold digger”—who receive an average of $3,000 a month from their sugar daddies (it’s worth noting that none of these figures can be independently verified). Wade says that since the site launched in 2006, the number of female students signing up has grown exponentially, a trend that he links to the economic downturn and rising tuition costs. To test his theory, SeekingArrangement employees recently canvassed schools with the largest percentage of registered sugar babies and polled students on how they would spend their sugar daddies’ cash.
It’s not the type of methodology that would fly at Gallup, but the results were nevertheless surprising, with only small differences between elite universities and lower-tier state schools. “In the case of Arizona State University, more than 60 percent of the students polled said they could see themselves having a sugar daddy,” says Wade. “The numbers are slightly lower at Columbia and NYU, but still significantly higher than we would think.” Sixty-three percent of NYU students and 47 percent of Columbia students made the same admission. Even more surprising is that NYU is number two on SeekingArrangement’s “Top 20 Sugar Baby Schools” list, second only to Georgia State University, with its user base up 61 percent—from 543 students to 861—since the beginning of the year.
But Wade is trying to upend what he sees as the myths of sugar daddydom. “The misconception that the sugar daddy is a 75-year-old man looking to date a younger woman, that’s taking a stereotype and focusing on the extreme cases, but in reality sugar daddies are not that old, and sugar babies are not that young. Average daddy is 39, and average baby is 27,” he said.
And it’s something of a myth too that this is a phenomenon of the Internet age, as evidenced by the abundance of “stripping-through-college” memoirs. Desperate women, desperate for cash is a large part of the fantasy for the sugar daddy. The key to the fetish is that the women aren’t whores but ingénues, with the very real possibility that their love is for sale. But that doesn’t make it any less pathetic.
Indeed, Wade founded the website not with a grand social mission in mind. Strip out the high-mindedness and the reason for SeekingArrangement’s existence is simple. Wade was having trouble getting girls. “Having graduated from MIT with a dual degree, I was having a really tough time dating. On the normal dating sites I was outgamed by guys who had good looks or amazing bodies. My mother always told me to focus on school and study—don’t worry about the women; they will come when you’re successful because then you have the means to be generous,” he told me.
It’s an innovative, if absurd strategy in combating America’s mounting student debt crisis. But women attempting to sleep their way through college will end up feeling more like trophy wives than graduates by the time they collect their diplomas.