The most entertaining Valentine’s Day themed item I read yesterday came from Foreign Policy, in the form of a Stephen Walt blog post applying international relations theory to romance:
To begin with, any romantic partnership is essentially an alliance, and alliances are a core concept on international relations. Alliances bring many benefits to the members (or else why would we form them?) but as we also know, they sometimes reflect irrational passions and inevitably limit each member’s autonomy. Many IR theorists believe that institutionalizing an alliance makes it more effective and enduring, but that’s also why making a relationship more formal is a significant step that needs to be carefully considered.
Of course, IR theorists have also warned that allies face the twin dangers of abandonment and entrapment: the more we fear that our partners might leave us in the lurch (abandonment), the more likely we are to let them drag us into obligations that we didn’t originally foresee (entrapment). When you find yourself gamely attending your partner’s high school reunion or traveling to your in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner every single year, you’ll know what I mean.
There’s more at the link. I found this via Matt Yglesias, who remarks: “I bet Man, the State, and War could sell more copies if they [found] a way to reposition it as a dating advice book.” Indeed, I would go further and say that Stephen Walt should definitely write a book-length version of this post, offering cold-hard yet charmingly sassy relationship advice based on IR theory. There’s always demand for books in this vein, and with the IR angle it could even be pitched at men. “It’s He’s Just No That Into You… with nukes!”
In this interdisciplinary spirit, I wondered if finance has any similar lessons to teach, but I didn’t think of much. Relationships aren’t assets to be traded, after all, and you can’t short sell by breaking up with someone whom you weren’t actually dating. However, it does seem that online dating is countercyclical which at least suggests that one’s chances might improve during a recession.
Remember the infamous singles map? The weird east-west gradient in which single women were concentrated on the east coast and single men in the west always seemed very odd to me. I think there must be some demographic explanation (I’m guessing related to immigration patterns) but I haven’t seen a compelling one yet.
In addition, I used to wonder just how useful it was to look at the entire single population at once. The statistics were likely to change substantially under various demographic slices, so the overall average may not be very interesting—any given person is only going to be looking for singles within some subset of age, socioeconomic status, and so forth.
So this remix of the data in which one can select an age range is pretty interesting. It turns out that moving the age slider alters the picture radically, primarily because women marry earlier than men. So in the 18-39 range there are excess single men pretty much everywhere. (Don’t miss the commentary at that link, which is both entertaining and insightful.)
What this needs now is more sliders along other categories so that a user can locate the demographic that offers him or her the best odds. Meanwhile I am going to continue to deprioritize my own efforts at dating until the market recovers, and working for a major bank is once again held in higher regard than professional puppy-kicking.
Valentine’s Day is about as personally relevant to me as is Passover or Guy Fawkes Day, and since I’m likely to move to a distant, undetermined location in the next month or two, dating is a very low priority for me. However, that will not stop this blog from making gratuitous holiday tie-in posts. Today we have (via Fark) a Pew Research finding that most American singles aren’t looking for a partner. Specifically:
Among all singles, just 16% say they are currently looking for a romantic partner. That amounts to 7% of the adult population. Some 55% of singles report no active interest in seeking a romantic partner. This is especially true for women, for those who have been widowed or divorced, and for older singles. Yet even among the youngest adults, the zest for romance is somewhat muted: 38% of singles ages 18-29 say they are not currently looking for a romantic partner, compared to 22% in that age cohort who are looking for partners. The rest say they are in committed relationships.
Here’s my Tyler Cowen-esque ordered list of possible explanations:
- Simple preference. Some people decide that, despite the dominant cultural paradigm, this kind of relationship just isn’t something they want.
- Dating sucks. The process of finding a partner is so unpleasant that some people give up, or wait for a more favorable environment.
- Small dating pool. This is the one the Pew survey actually investigates at some level, asking the people who are looking if there are good prospects in the community. Outside of urban areas they are not very optimistic about this.
- Practical issues. Some people have very full schedules and don’t have the time or the resources for dating. A variety of other personal circumstances don’t allow for entering a relationship (or make it quite difficult). Alternatively, they just prioritize other interests.
- Signaling. Actively looking for a partner is often interpreted as a sign of desperation, and can be counterproductive, so people say they aren’t to project more self-assurance. Maybe this effect extends to survey responses.
- Dating works. People looking for partners tend to find them sooner or later, removing them from the category of interest. The more efficient this process is, the more selection bias you get in this kind of survey: people for whom being in a relationship is important are underrepresented in the singles group, because they don’t stay in this category for long periods of time.
I think 6 is the largest effect, followed by 3 and 4. When I’m personally in the not-looking group it’s usually for a combination of 1 and 2, although currently it’s 4 (the impending relocation).
Frequently Tyler Cowen’s dating commentary is the most entertaining aspect of Marginal Revolution. In one of today’s posts, he compares dating to auction strategies:
In terms of dating, if you run an English auction you go out with many people, if not simultaneously then relatively closely bunched in time, and you stick with the one who offers the most. If you run a Dutch auction you signal clearly your standards (lowering the standards over time if need be), and stick with the first person who bites.
It’s an interesting model. I am suspicious of the “Dutch auction” approach in that it’s more difficult to evaluate prospects that way. (This may be what Cowen has in mind when he says “hidden but not too hidden qualities encourage English auctions.”) On the other hand, it’s easier for shy people who might have difficulty with the “English auction” style. Of course, my own forays into dating have been too sporadic to be described by anything resembling a strategy.