Joe Birger, a financial writer for Fortune Magazine wrote and published a book in 2015 on the concept of what he called Date-onomics, wanting to find out why dating is so difficult for some while others have it easy. He used the simple concept of musical chairs to explain this theory. He states, “The longer you stay in the game, the greater your chances of losing”. As a hard core romantic with a passion for writing and a love for Behavioural Economics, it sparked my interest and probed me to look further.
The dating website cupid.com faced a problem of women quitting the website on receiving abundant, dating offers from men. Two economists, Muriel Niederle of Stanford, and Dan Ariely of Duke were approached by the website to help them solve this problem. The two spoke of the simple yet effective concept of artificial scarcity and abundance in the online dating world. They stated that putting a limit on the number of women men could ask out per month on the website would make men more conscious and take the website – and who they ask out on a date – more seriously.
People often make irrational and surprising decisions is the basis of behavioural economics. Research from Ariely found that when given a choice while making a decision, consumers always make a comparison and don’t blindly choose. When presented with two similar products, consumers choose the cheaper one. However, when presented with a third option similar to the more expensive one in price but being worse, consumers tend to choose the costlier option. This, in behavioural economics, is known as the concept of decoys and asymmetric dominance. Here, consumers tend to have a change in preference between two options when presented with a third, asymmetrically dominated option.
The concept comes to play in the dating world in stating that one should play with a “less attractive decoy”. In simpler terms, it is what I like to call comparative attractiveness; based solely on physical appearance. Think back to profiles you have seen on dating apps where you found the friend cuter than the person whose profile you were viewing. Irrespective of how attractive the person is, posing with someone more attractive reduces their “attractiveness quotient”.
Now think of the last time you waited 4 hours to text someone back even though you read the text 4 seconds after you received it. The whole concept of playing hard to get arises from a behavioural economics concept called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is defined as the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, feelings, or attitudes, especially relating to behavioural decisions and attitude changes. It is the concept that comes to play when a consumer justifies having spent $200 on AirPods when more reputed companies like JBL and Bose have similar, cheaper, alternatives. It could also come to play in products that have snob value. Connecting the dating world with cognitive dissonance, playing hard to get seems to work because the person on the other end would tend to justify putting in with no return and they do so using cognitive dissonance in saying that the effort put in was directly proportionate to the amount they liked the person.
A good relationship that ended badly, to us, was a bad relationship. The peak-end rule which states that one disproportionately remembers entire situations based solely on how they end. The peak-end rule shows that ending a date on a high note is beneficial no matter how badly the date went. Using cognitive dissonance, we would justify the same in saying that the relationship was bad to begin with and we failed to see red flags. However, in reality, it is simple concepts like these playing mind games with us.
Delving more into the history of date-onomics, in 2018, Vox released a video titled How the Economy Shapes Our Love Life. The video talks about love through time. In the 1800s, calling was a common practice where women would receive men at home at certain hours of the day. They would then proceed to go out to parlours on a date, supervised by older female members from the woman’s family. It was like Bumble where one person had a limited period of time to make the first move, but included an extra layer of supervision.
Believe it or not, in the 1880s and the 1890s, dating was driven by the Industrial Revolution. The revolution resulted in more women working and putting themselves out there, hence receiving more attention in the outside world than just at their doorstep. The classic dinner and a movie was born in this period and if you didn’t have money, you got no dates; even 2 centuries later, the idea is still in practice.
In a span of two decades from 1940, the American GDP rose from $200 billion to $500 billion. This economic boom indicates an increase in spending which in turn indicates an increase in disposable income. Post WWII, younger Americans were estimated to have an average income of $10.55 per week; 15 years prior to this study, the same was the weekly disposable income for an entire family. This was followed by the introduction of drive-in movie theatres which simply kept adding to the revenue.
From marriage being an economic arrangement, to the dating world evolving to much more than just looking for a suitable partner to marry, a lot has changed. Coming closer to our time, in the decade between 1995 and 2005, the number of internet users rose from 16 million to 1 billion. Come 2009 and 2012, the introduction of Grindr and Tinder respectively, only increased online interaction.
With Tinder estimated to be worth around 10 billion – a massive increase from its initial 3 million valuation – the dating world has never been more active. Dating apps, restaurants, bars clothing companies, hotels, Oyo, you name it and the industry is benefitting from the dating world. Paraphrasing the Netflix series Bojack Horseman – the rose colored glasses we wear in relationships will still make all the red flags look like normal flags. So while date-onomics can help us analyse our relationships and help explain them better, it can’t do much about the irrational and surprising choices, we, as participants of the dating world make.
-Anisha Noronha, Editor-in-Chief, Declassified
Tedx Talks (2014). An economist walks into a bar | Robert Litan | TedxKC. Retrieved 13 February 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SkoG9FWP4w
The Cato Institute (2015). The Economics of Dating: How Game Theory and Demographics Explain Dating in D.C. (Jon Birger). Retrieved 13 February 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBDUOi9IhfE
Vox. (2018). How the economy shapes our love lives. Retrieved 13 February 2020, from https://www.vox.com/videos/2018/2/23/17041588/dating-economy-love-lives-online-dating