The high cost of living in San Francisco isn’t lost on anyone, especially millennials, who are struggling to make ends meet every day.
Amid claims young adults are living on rice and water and can't afford rent, some are striking up questionable escort-like relationships, hoping "sugar daddies" will help pay their bills.
In an article titled "Daddy Dating at SF State," San Francisco State University’s student newspaper, the Xpress, reported that at least 194 students are currently sugar babies on the dating site SeekingArrangement.com. The data comes directly from the site, which describes itself as a place "where beautiful, successful people fuel mutually beneficial relationships."
One self-identified "sugar baby" told the Xpress, "I needed money." The student described going on a date with a "sugar daddy" at an Italian restaurant.
"He called me a car, and as I was leaving, he gave me $600. He was like, 'I know you need to get your nails done as well as pay your rent.' That was my allowance," the student told the Xpress.
SF State isn’t the only Bay Area school with sugar babies — UC Berkeley made the list of 2016's fastest growing "sugar baby schools," with 67 new sign ups last year, as did its sister school, UC Davis, according to SeekingArrangement. New York University tops the list.
Living expenses for the 2015-16 academic year at SF State are around $18,172, not including tuition, according to the university. Data from The Institute of College Access and Success shows the average 2014 SF State graduate left school $22,741 in debt.
"There are a lot of students who can’t afford the outrageous cost of living in San Francisco who find relationships that help them pay for tuition and living expenses — sometimes it also helps with networking and finding a job after graduating," said SeekingArrangement.com spokesperson Brook Urick.
A report from SeekingArrangement.com shows that nearly two million students seek financial aid from sugar daddies. New estimates show the average debt of college students rose to $30,867 this year.
"Some see this as a controversial solution. However, SeekingArrangement.com has helped facilitate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of arrangements that have helped students graduate debt-free,” the site’s CEO and founder, Brandon Wade, an MIT graduate, said in a statement earlier this year. “That’s more than anyone can say of a particular president or Congress.”
In an interview with the Xpress, Urick emphasized the difference between prostitutes and sugar babies, saying "escorts or prostitutes are paid for sex," while sugar babies receive "gifts" of money or goods.
Ads for SeekingArangement.com and interviews in the Xpress article allude to the lavish treatment of sugar babies, referencing gifts of jewelry, fancy hotels, Michelin Star restaurants and expensive wines.
"What’s going on here is a lot different. Sometimes there isn’t sex. Sometimes there isn’t money," Urick told the paper. "Here, it’s a relationship and it’s a gift. The idea is that these people are generous, they’re willing to spoil. They might not have time for traditional relationships, but they’re willing to provide something else."
Urick said SeekingArrangement.com, which launched in 2006, decided to track the number of students registering in 2010.
"We saw a lot of students joining that year," she said.
There are currently 1.134 million student sugar babies in the U.S., most of them between 21 and 27 years old, according to Urick. She said 82 percent are undergrads, while 18 percent are graduate students.
On an average, sugar babies receive an allowance of $3,000 per month, which they spend on tuition (36 percent), rent (23 percent), books (20 percent), transportation (9 percent) and clothing (5 percent), according to Urick.
San Francisco is among the top 10 cities in which to find a sugar daddy, according to SeekingArrangement.com. One in 70 adult men in the city is registered on the site as a "daddy."
The typical "daddy" is 45 years old, with a net worth of $5.2 million, working in technology, business, finance or law. There's a 34 percent chance he's married, according to a report by SeekingArrangement.com.
"We invite (daddies) to be open and honest about the fact that they’re married," Urick told the Xpress. "I would like to hope that a lot of these relationships are sort of a don’t-ask-don’t-tell thing. I feel like that’s what a lot of long-term marriages turn into, where it’s OK to stray extramaritally as long as you’re safe."
Students can also come to the site looking for sugar "mommies."
Those who register with .edu email addresses receive free premium memberships, according to the site, which uses email addresses to track student signups. Students can then create their profiles, add photos and list their expectations, Urick said.
"It’s just like any other dating site — everyone finds a relationship on their own terms," she said.
Deborah Cohlar, SF State's chair of women and gender studies, was candid about students seeking out sugar dating websites as an alternative method to fund college.
"[San Francisco] is an extraordinarily expensive place to live," she told the Xpress. "So we have all kinds of working students on campus."
"In a time of rising costs of living, we know students all over the country are forced to work multiple jobs or be entrepreneurial in order to make ends meet," said Luoluo Hong, Title IX coordinator and vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at SF State. "Our hope is that students are safe and free of coercion in these situations, and we will look at this issue more closely, in dialogue with our students, from the perspective of Title IX."
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.