Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Economics of Love

Those who know me well know I’m not often at a loss for words. Yet, here I find myself truly stupefied.

I thought that, for Valentine’s Day, I’d write a blog post on the economics of love. So I Googled “economics of love” and got Solve Dating. It’s one of the more interesting, if bizarre, applications of cost-benefit analysis I’ve ever seen.

Now don’t get me wrong—I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on search-based marriage matching models, so I’m not against applying economic principles to questions of matrimony. But I wonder: how useful is it to try to get into the nitty-gritty of quantifying the costs and benefits of love? Is the equation “rejection cost = – (your self-esteem + frequency of past rejections)” a valid one? What units could you possibly use?

On the other hand, some of the conclusions on the site are fairly decent applications of basic economic analysis. For example, just below that equation is the insight “People who are sensitive to rejection are less likely to find their soulmates.” They suggest, “Build up your self-esteem. Convince yourself that it was their loss.”

Now there’s cost minimization for you! Happy Valentine’s Day.

Discussion Questions

1. We use a lot of math and graphs in economics, but some questions are better answered with equations than others. What lends a phenomenon to mathematical analysis? Do the good folks at Solve Dating go too far?

2. What kinds of questions of the heart can you answer with economic principles? Do you apply your knowledge of economics to your own love life?

3. My favorite title of a search-based marriage model paper was “Transplants and Implants: The Economics of Self-Improvement.” This paper discusses the fact that people rationally improve themselves when trying to attract a mate, and then optimally “let themselves go” once they get married. Is that an argument that makes sense to you? How could you test that hypothesis?



  • At 9:06 PM, February 24, 2008, Blogger Glen Whitman said…


    I tried to contact you by email, but I couldn't find it on this blog or via Google search. I'd like to ask some questions about your dissertation, which you mentioned in this post. Please contact me at glen-dot-whitman @ gmail-dot-com.



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