I will admit that I’m pretty fascinated with dating markets and the dynamics of mate selection. (One of my favorite activities, in fact, is looking up OkCupid profiles of people I know in order to test the efficacy of OkCupid’s matching algorithm. In related news, I am creepy and need a life and should probably be satisfied by the data analysis contained in the OkCupid blog.) On one hand, dating markets are super romantic and lovey dovey and whatnot, but, on the other hand, they are matching markets like any other- in reality, dating markets aren’t that different from labor markets (where employers are trying to find compatible workers and vice versa) except that, with labor markets, it’s more clear who is the buyer and who is the seller. (There’s got to be a joke in there somewhere.)
It’s not surprising, then, that economists sometimes get involved with studying the inner workings of dating markets- just take a look at Marina Adshade’s Dollars and Sex column, for example. But what happens when economists start to play cupid more directly?
This, apparently. In short, Steve Levitt (you know, Freakonomics and all) is trying to line up prospective suitors for a lovely-sounding friend of his. Based on what I know of Levitt, I find this to be a little odd- after all, Levitt is a professor at the University of Chicago, and isn’t Chicago-school economics more than happy to tell us that if it was efficient for this woman to have a husband that she would have one already? Instead, he seems pretty hell-bent on eseentially creating a monopsony sub-market within the overall dating pool in order to help this woman out. (Gentlemen, I expect you to keep me posted if any of you win said contest.)
Theoretically, monopsonies (markets with a lot of sellers but only one buyer) are inefficient for the same reason that monopolies (markets with a lot of buyers but only one seller) are inefficient- “good” market outcomes don’t generally happen when one party has more market power than the other (or any market power at all, I suppose). Empirically, we can see that this is indeed the case not only in monopoly and monopsony situations but also in scenarios where the numbers of “buyers” and “sellers” are not aligned. In the case of (heterosexual) dating markets, a power imbalance is created when there are unequal numbers of males and females, and the power imbalance is reflected in the dating requirements of the scarcer gender. For example, check out the demands of a female graduate student in China.
Therefore, as a public service, here is a list of cities where women outnumber men. (Note that this is technically a public service for both genders, just in different directions.) Or, if you don’t feel like relocating to Senegal, I am told that educated single women outnumber educated single men in Washington D.C. (The article linked to in that post also makes an interesting connection between the overchoice problem and the appeal of different dating markets.)
Also, I wonder why Al Roth and his matching algortithms haven’t solved this problem yet. I guess economics is easy compared to romance.