The Dating Market Part 1: Parallels to Economic Markets

Remiel, Maverick


In recent years, the paradigms of dating have undoubtedly seen a major shift. The advent of globalisation brought along social media and online dating, forever changing how we meet, interact, and date each other. Nowadays, discourse surrounding modern dating frequently sees the use of the term dating market. The Cambridge dictionary defines market as the business or trade in a particular product, including financial products. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the common collocation of the dating market carries some weight in its implied parallels to the economic definition of a market. Accordingly, this article is the first of a three-part series covering the interesting similarities between the dating and economic markets, and the impact of globalisation on both markets.


Market fundamentals: establishing the foundational similarities between dating and economic markets


In economics, the forces of supply and demand are associated with the economic agents of sellers and buyers respectively. These two forces reconcile in the transaction of products by the sellers for the buyers in exchange for unit currencies, satisfying both parties in the process. In the dating market, a similar mechanism occurs when two interested prospective partners make contact to evaluate each other in hopes of starting a relationship (a la an economic transaction). However, an interesting distinction is that in a dating market, both parties simultaneously play the role of  the buyer, seller, and product. Just as how different buyers derive different utilities out of different products, eligible bachelors and bachelorettes have certain criterias they would like their partners. Thus, these criterias (typically referred to as “standards” and “green flags” in online discourse, observed in platforms such as TikTok and Instagram) fundamentally parallels the consumer utility function in economics. In most basic economic models, sellers are interested in obtaining as much unit currency as possible from the products they have on hand. Similarly, an eligible bachelor/bachelorette will typically try to get a partner that is as high quality as possible (unit currency) who is willing to accept the bachelor/bachelorette in question (product) as their dating partner. Thus, two interested parties in dating starting a relationship can be conceptualised as analogous to economic transactions where buyers and sellers meet and agree on a price. Following this, we will examine some parallels between the market mechanisms of economic and dating markets.


Rational agent assumption: why our dating standards determine who we date 


The aforementioned similarities between the fundamentals of dating and economic market agents rely on one key assumption that is almost ubiquitous in economic models: the rational agent assumption. Of particular note is the utility maximising behaviour of rational economic agents, which will be assumed in subsequent discussions of consumer behaviour. In most cases, this assumption is fairly reasonable to be transplanted into the dating market as most people would prefer a better-quality partner than lesser-quality ones. There are far too many metrics for measuring what qualities qualify in distincting better and lesser-quality partners to be discussed in this article series. An easy rudimentary example would be that most heterosexual women prefer a wealthier man than a less wealthy alternative, ceteris paribus. Other common metrics include height, intelligence, facial symmetry, etc. The weightage of these different metrics would also differ between individual bachelors/bachelorettes. Hence, clarifying the distinction between higher and lower quality prospective partners is out of this article’s scope. Regardless, the statement “a better-quality partner gives greater utility to any eligible bachelor/bachelorette than a lesser-quality partner” should be taken as axiomatic particularly in discussing utility-maximising behaviours.


Supply/demand forces and the role of price in the dating market


For any discussions of rudimentary economic models involving supply and demand, it is impossible to ignore supply and demand curves. So, how do these curves translate to the dating market? For the purposes of outlining the fundamental similarities between the dating market and the supply-demand economic model, this article will first use individual demand and supply curve rather than the market curves. Thus, the focus would largely be on exploring individual bachelor/bachelorette’s behaviours before moving on discussions on the dating market at large. Fundamental classical economics dictate that quantity of demand decreases as price increases whereas quantity of supply increases as price increases. Although we have made clear definitions as to the translation of buyers/sellers/product roles to the dating market, we have not yet established the appropriate equivalent of Price in the dating market. Literal monetary price for entering a relationship with a particular bachelor/bachelorette does exist in the form of cultural practices such as dowry in rural India. However, these cultural practices are not particularly widespread and thus can be considered fringe in this article’s scope of discussion. Price measures the value demanded by sellers from the customers in exchange for the goods and thus represents seller benefits and buyer costs from a transaction. Hence, price in the dating market would be the qualities demanded to be present in an eligible bachelor/bachelorette in order to start a relationship with a specific prospective partner. This conclusion can be observed in real-life dating scenarios: the more ‘standards’ have to be met in order to court a particular bachelor/bachelorette, the less available suitors are able to meet the standards and pursue a relationship (i.e., negative sloping demand curve).

 On the other hand, the ability to get a higher quality partner (i.e., higher price) is of interest to more and more eligible bachelors/bachelorettes (sellers). The parallel to the supply curve extends even further: In recent years, we have seen more and more instances of technically eligible bachelors/bachelorettes being less and less willing to start a relationship as they feel that they can’t meet any prospective partner which meets their minimum standards. This behaviour is similar to individual sellers in a market-wide supply curve having a minimum price at which they are able and willing to supply the product in question. Hence, the sufficient transplantability of demand and supply curves behaviours to the dating market further cements the fundamental similarity between the two markets.


Market structure: is the dating market a perfect competition?


Between common market structure models, the two that are most likely to be applicable is that of the perfect competition market and monopolistic competition markets. On both of these markets, there are very low barriers of entry to the market. From a product differentiation standpoint, the monopolistic competition market structure makes the most sense as each prospective dating partner offers differing qualities and thus are not homogenous products. Furthermore, to say that perfect substitutes are accessible in the market is not entirely accurate as no two prospective dating partners can give the exact same utility to a particular person in the dating market. Hence, monopolistic competition’s feature of having available close substitutes is more representative of the dating market structure. Therefore, we can say that the dating market most closely resembles a monopolistic competition market.


On that account, we have established that the fundamentals of rudimentary economic models are translatable to the dating market as a monopolistic competition market with rational agents. The next article in this series will focus on the impact of globalisation on the dating market as an open or closed economy. Furthermore, we will attempt to answer the question: Does Adam Smith’s invisible hand theory apply in the dating market?

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