May 6, 2008

The Economics of Love- Part 1: Dating

Finding the perfect mate is one of the crucial attainments in someone’s life. We look for a partner pulled by different motives. Depending on circumstances, we are sometimes egoistically driven by possessiveness and the quest for personal satisfaction; sometimes it is the altruistic need to give birth (or adopt) a child that leads us into the “business” of dating. As difficult as this process can be, people invest a lot of energy and effort in selecting his/her “best half”. Does the perfect match really exist? Some studies find that people often marry somebody from their same environment, like people with whom you have grown up, or people you have met at work. While still motivated by attraction and love, this piece of evidence contrasts the romantic view of unconditioned, unconstrained, unbounded love: it seems to point out instead that people select rationally those who fit better their priors about how a mate should be, and “hedonically” adapt to it. But what actually are these priors about preferred mate across gender? Are there some consistent differences between men and women? The answer to this question is problematic since it is always possible to find some “relevant attributes” that are compatible with the observed outcome. So if we look at the list of all married couples in the world to find out what are the most recurring attributes would ass little insight. The ideal setting would be one where people randomly met, have the opportunity to know his/her partner’s attributes and then finally express a preference. This is what you normally have during a speed dating night: you are confronted with a certain number of potential partners, have the opportunity to talk to them for a reasonable period of time to make an informed judgement and then decide whether or not you want his/her email address and meet again in the future. Some economists used this set up on a big sample, collected the results and gave the answer in a paper published on the Quarterly Journal of Economics: men value physical attractiveness while women value intelligence. Nothing really new on this ground. The next findings were that men don’t like women who are more intelligent or more ambitious than they are, while women like men who have grown up in wealthier neighbourhood. These findings are consistent with explanations taken from Evolutionary Psychology, according to which men select the partner according to women’s limited reproductive capacity, while women select men according to their ability to provide aid when it is time to raise their offspring. If these are the preferences, then in equilibrium, as earning potential increases linearly with age, we should expect to see women married to older men. This would be the outcome of a “rational” selection of the mate and, extremes aside, this is indeed the most common pattern found in modern societies. Is this outcome also the one bringing the level of highest individual well-being? Once your partner is chosen according to the above criteria, what you need is to find also empathy and coincidence in the level of sexual satisfaction. And here comes the problem: age gap of the above mentioned type entails a loss of intimate satisfaction. Why so? We will discuss the implications of this phenomenon in the next post, when analyzing the economics of lovemaking.



R. Fisman, S. S. Iyengar, E. Kamenica, I. Simonson “Gender Differences in Mate Selection: Evidence from a Speed Dating Experiment”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2006, 121, 673-697


3 comments:

Sebastian said...

Besides the fact that we are becoming the blog of the "Economics of...", I am looking forward to the second part!
I did not read the journal article but there is a problem in the finding you report: though choosing on the basis of beauty in the context of this experiment is "subjectively objective" and hence unlikely to cause trouble, I wonder how the statement that "women like men who have grown up in wealthier neighbourhoods" comes along. How did the women find out about this in the process. Did all women ask this question? If not, and only those women who asked, chose those that life in the good neighborhood, there seems to be a bias as those are likely to be the ones who cared about this fact in the first place.
Or is it just the case that the men who were chosen tended to life in a good neighborhood? Can we then say that women chose according to this criteria....

Pierre-Louis said...

It's obvious when a guy comes from a wealthier neigborhood. His clotehs, haircut, everything in his way of being is different, especially in the US.

cosi said...

I didn't read the article, but I guess there is a big self-selection in the exercise to start with. Even if I were desperate, I would never participate to a speed-dating night, because I am shy when it comes to "draguer les filles" and/or I consider it diminishing for my intelligence. Much like participating to a TV show. Only people who are very self-confident (and probably with not very high levels of education, but I would not bet my house on this) will participate in first place. Any inference based on self-confidence, like would be biased by sample selection. Am I wrong?