I think opportunist would be the word for someone who wants to get into relationships with rich people so that they can get rich, but that word is negative and can be used for other situations as well. Do we have a more accurate word for it?
A social climber may suggest the idea and doesn't necessarily have negative connotations:
a person who attempts to gain a higher social standing.
a person who tries to gain acceptance to a social stratum above the one he or she currently occupies.
The Free Dictionary
Ambitious is suitable:
1 Having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed:
If your measure of success is wealth, then hooking up with a rich person seems like a reasonable strategy. Like the OP and other answers provided, it can elicit either positive or negative connotations, and it can easily be applied to various situations. The history of ambitious connects it firmly to the notion of relationships:
(adj.) late 14c., from Latin ambitiosus "going around to canvass for office," from ambitio (see ambition).
mid-14c., from Middle French ambition or
directly from ambitionem (nominative ambitio) "a going around," especially to solicit votes,
hence "a striving for favor, courting, flattery; a desire for honor, thirst for popularity,"
noun of action from past participle stem of ambire "to go around" (see ambient).
As you say "gold digger" is wholly negative, and is often used, by for example, people who foolishly married badly with no regard to education, economic status etc.
I don't have a more accurate term (as you ask) which is neutral.
However, there are two terms which are commonly used in this situation. These are "practical" and "sensible".
She was very practical about marriage.
Note: as Scott has pointed out, add "ambitious" to this list.
These three words CAN BE used in a straight, neutral way. "My daughter made a sensible marriage." "Fortunately Annie made a practical marriage instead of getting pregnant at 17 to that boy with the motorbike."
However, note that indeed the three terms can be used "with a wink" as euphemisms, to imply the same sort of gold-digger-language disapproval.
(I mean all of this in typical AmE or BrE ... of course in many countries arranged marriage, etc., is the norm and it would seem bizarre to marry for purely emotional reasons.)
If the OP is looking for a positive word, may I suggest a pragmatist
someone who is pragmatic, that is to say, someone who is practical and focused on reaching a goal. A pragmatist usually has a straightforward, matter-of-fact approach and doesn't let emotion distract her.
or an enterprising individual:
having or showing initiative and resourcefulness.
It's worth noting that two users assumed the OP was referring to a category of women whose sole objective is to offer sexual favours in return for money, or to marry a wealthy man. While no one is denying this does happen; it is, as Joe Blow clearly stated in his answer, a very practical approach to improving one's economic status; men are not immune to using sex as a means of obtaining prosperity. Gigolos
- A man who has a continuing sexual relationship with and receives financial support from a usually older woman
and toy boys
- the much younger male lover of an older woman
are but two (usually derogatory) expressions, reserved for men who consciously exploit their youth, and physical appearance in order to receive generous financial rewards.
But for anybody who has no discernible talent, lacks qualifications and a strong work ethic, they will look at marriage with a critical and objective eye. Youth and physical beauty are inexorably intertwined, a pragmatic and determined individual knows that time is of essence, and will attempt to snare their ‘prey’ before they have reached their forties. In addition, many view that marriage is synonymous with a "business contract", there are prenups which must be signed by both parties before a marriage can be undertaken.
Any couple who brings personal or business assets to the marriage can benefit from a prenup. The most basic of these contracts lists an inventory of premarital assets that in the event of a divorce will remain the property of their original owner.
Conversely, I would say a person who wishes to mix in the right circles, which often include affluent people; celebrities; business men and women; in order to widen their social contacts and build a ‘profitable’ network, is an enterprising and astute individual.
- of keen penetration or discernment; sagacious:
an astute analysis.
- clever; cunning; ingenious; shrewd:
This type of pragmatism is deeply ingrained, especially in Europe
Almost two thirds believe that social connections are still more important than “what you know” in determining how people advance in life, it found. […] Just over than three quarters of those polled said they believed family background significantly influences an individual's chances of doing well in life. And 65 per cent agreed that fundamentally "who you know matters more than what you know" in Britain today.
Source: The Daily Telegraph
It's not what you know, but who you know
is as true today in the 21st century as it was in the 20th.