What Economists Can Teach You About Online Dating

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Let’s face it: love does come at a certain cost, especially if you have been investing much time and money going for dates one after another but with no foreseeable reward of a long-lasting romance with any of them. It may sound terribly unromantic to think of romantic pursuits in costs incurred, but concepts in economics can be applied to the search for a partner. In fact, economists do study the online dating scene as a marketplace. These economics angles to dating may just provide you with novel strategies in your search for love, not to mention save you from frittering away your weekend nights and cash in your wallet:

Sizing up the dating pool

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Admit it, you have dismissed at least one online profile just because you felt that they didn’t meet your desired physical characteristics in a partner. But this approach utilises a view of potential candidates as “search goods”. In economics, these are products you judge based on characteristics you can evaluate prior to purchase, for example a television set or vitamins.

Online dating sites may have an effect in encouraging this approach as well. In a paper on designing better virtual dating interfaces published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing in 2008, psychologist Dan Ariely of Duke University and his colleagues argued that many online dating sites classify users like a commodity on an e-commerce platform and force users to screen candidates by such searchable attributes, like height, weight and income, which invariably leads to much romantic disappointment.

“Whether someone joins a dating website to find her soulmate or a one-night stand, success is not determined solely by her partner’s objective qualities (e.g, income and height) but also by subjective qualities, based on moment-to-moment rapport between herself and her potential partner,” wrote the authors.

Instead, the researchers posited that people are the ultimate “experience goods”. Also an economics term, experience goods in this case are judged by the emotions and sensations they bring out in you and who can be appraised only after you encounter them. Just like a fine dining session, movies and perfume, you will only get to understand the merits and nuances of these goods after consuming and experiencing them firsthand, rather than the appraisal done on search goods in advance.

Instead of focusing too much on searchable characteristics like body weight or income levels, widen your dating preferences and options and take the time to look at someone’s profile, rather than dismissing them outright especially on dating platforms that place searchable characteristics at the forefront of dating consideration. It’s worth a shot taking the time to respond to someone’s message and strike up a conversation online and then, offline.

The risks of romantic unemployment

The constant reaching out to candidates you’re interested in and the need to keep putting up your best front during dates may seem as exhausting as a job search and its interviews. And that’s exactly what Paul Oyer, Professor of Economics at Stanford University surmised about the dating scene in his 2014 book, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating – it’s not so different from a labour market, after all.

One perspective about dating that can be gleaned from economics utilises a branch of labour economics known as search theory, explains Professor Oyer in his book. According to this theory, the job market is fraught with frictions – firms are spending time and money looking for the right hire, and job-seekers are investing the same into finding the work they desire. Turning this concept to the dating scene then, Professor Oyer points out that frictions abound in this market too, such as having to set up a profile online, conversing with potential dates, and going on multiple, even failed, dates.

“Both sides of the ‘market’ find it costly to go out and look for a partner (or, in a job context, an employee or employer) and both sides know that, if they keep looking, something better might become available. So people looking for jobs are reluctant to settle, just as people looking for partners are,” writes Professor Oyer. “Search frictions slow down the matching process in labour markets, leading to people being unemployed or underemployed. Similarly, search frictions lead people to be lonely because, though a really great partner may be out there, we don’t know how to find each other.”

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The economist also doles out relevant advice for such romantically unemployed. “You can’t hold out for the perfect man. He doesn’t exist, and if he did, someone else might have found him by now,” said Professor Oyer in a 2016 podcast interview, Dear Sugar, in response to a listener’s romantic woes about the lack of good people to date. Instead of thinking you will eventually have to ‘settle’ for someone who is more of a mismatch, think of your romantic quest as finding “someone who is really great” rather than completely perfect. Don’t write people off so easily and you’ll be saving on the costs of the search eventually. As Professor Oyer sums it up in his book, “regardless of whether people are too picky, one thing is for sure when you search for a partner, or for almost anything else: whether or not you are perfectly rational, search theory says that there is definitely a chance that you will regret passing up a chance you had.”

Even if a date turns out to be quite fruitless, you can save on your dating expenditure with the UOB Lady’s Card, which offers complimentary drinks at selected bars and free weekend parking at several malls in town. Or if you’re planning to have a virtual stakeout on a dating platform soon, consider getting the HSBC Movie Card if you’re a HSBC cardholder. A choice of a Weekdays Movie Card or an All Days Movie Card assures you of savings on multiple dates to the cinema and on refreshments, too!

You may also be interested in:
How to Date Successfully According to Science
What Is the Price of Love in Singapore?


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