Putting Yourself Back on the (Cyber) Market

Economists are primarily concerned with the management of scarce resources, in order to create the most desirable outcomes possible. As an aspiring economist, I always thought these resources included things like labor, steel, gas, et cetera. But it turns out, several economic principles can be applied to online dating! Stanford economist Paul Oyer wrote the book, Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating, on his journey of finding online love, equipped with an economic arsenal.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business did a great video interview with Oyer.

Paul’s first recommendation is to consider the type of market you’re interested in.  Some sites are a “thick market”, which is a market with many buyers and sellers. Think of this kind of market as a mall, with a wide selection and variety of stores. A thin market would be a market with not many buyers and sellers, like a specialty fishing equipment store. When online dating, one will maximize their number of dates by attacking a thick market, like a large site like OkCupid of eHarmony. However, going to a thin market, like FarmersOnly.com may cater to a very specialized quality that you value in a partner, like an agricultural background.

Another important online dating skill is the ability to signal. Signaling is when one economic party communicates to another, usually at a high cost, so that a level of trust is established between the two parties. For example, if a restaurant moves into a part of town where the rent is very high, this signals that the restaurant has very high expectations for its success. Similarly, people on dating sites need to find a way to “signal” when expressing their genuine interest in someone, otherwise the other party may feel manipulated. Trust is paramount when attempting to create a real relationship with another person.

Finally, Oyer’s last tip is to feel free to leave out a few personal details on your profile. What’s more, bending the truth isn’t necessarily a sin in the online dating world. Why? An element of Game Theory, called cheap talk, says that certain communications between players in the game will not affect the ultimate outcomes of the game. Being completely honest isn’t always attractive, so game theory states that the degree of honesty all depends on the perceived utility of ideal matches. In the end, if a person finds out that the other is a Republican but enjoys their company regardless, that detail did not affect the outcome of the relationship. However, a person could be turned down initially on line for such a particular.

Although I do not think that merely an economic background will make or break someone in regards to online dating, I agree with Oyer in that it will make someone’s experience much more efficient, and get one off the computer and out on dates much more quickly.


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