The economics of dating

At Slate, Ray Fisman explains his research into speed-dating:

With the obvious qualification that we’re talking here about a four-minute version of love and dating, we found that men did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner’s beauty, when choosing, than women did. We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks from research assistants, who were hired for the much sought-after position of hanging out in a bar to rate the dater’s level of attractiveness on a scale of one to 10.

By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women’s choices as men’s. It isn’t exactly that smarts were a complete turnoff for men: They preferred women whom they rated as smarter—but only up to a point. In a survey we did before the speed dating began, participants rated their own intelligence levels, and it turns out that men avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition—a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date.

When women were the ones choosing, the more intelligence and ambition the men had, the better. So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own. Women, on the other hand, care more about how men think and perform, and they don’t mind being outdone on those scores.

I like Fisman’s work, but there are other economists looking into the subject of speed dating. Here’s a Dear Economist citing the work of Michele Belot and Marco Francesconi, who also feature in my new book.

Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.