How Economics Applies to Dating


Gabrielle White

No one likes to think of the dating pool as a marketplace because it implies that the dating game is about weighing up the “value” of prospective partners until you find someone who is your equal (or better). It’s a cold way to look at it, but to cast aside butterflies and the magic of starry-eyed lovers’ gazes momentarily, the economics of dating markets clearly matters. Here’s what you need to know.

The dating market is a matching market.
Economist Alvin Roth describes markets like dating as “matching markets.” The difference is simple: in a regular market, I don’t care who you are, as long as you pay me what I ask in return for whatever I’m offering. When I sell lemonade at my lemonade stand, I don’t particularly care who buys it.

But in a matching market, however, I have to really want to make the deal with you in particular, and you have to feel the same way about me. The dating pool is just one example where this is true.

Other matching markets include job markets, where both companies and prospective hires need to mutually like each other, or the market for joining groups such as fraternities and sororities, and other kinds of social clubs. The desire to make the “transaction” – to date, to let someone join a club, to hire someone – has to be mutual.

To make the most successful match, you need to be honest about your priorities in a partner.
Roth’s work on matching markets, alongside Lloyd Shapley’s, went on to win a Nobel Prize in economics in 2012 by showing that the most effective matching markets are better at revealing people’s true preferences, which makes for more authentic, and therefore happier, matches.

In their work, they were able to optimize matches between doctors and hospitals, students and schools, and organ donors and recipients by using a matching algorithm that had been designed to better reveal the true objectives and priorities of each.

Being honest with yourself, then, about what your priorities are in a partner, will allow you to make the most successful match.

Have you asked yourself lately what’s important to you? Relationship expert Ty Tashiro provides a helpful framework for prioritizing what you’re looking for in a partner, if you’d like a starting point that’s rooted in research.

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