Got money?

Who has got the money in your relationship? I mean, who has the capital? – The man, the woman? Who do you think has it in most male-female interactions?

Well, I am not talking money as in bucks or accounts. I am talking about assets much closer to a relationship: sexual capital. With the cold, indifferent mind of the economist, we need to acknowledge that the woman has it. Always had.

Here is why. There are markets for sexuality. Let’s leave values and emotions to one side just for a minute and imagine that sex is a commodity that can be sold and bought. Well, it can. There is prostitution, there is pornography, and both can be lucrative trades. Some economists even argue that marriage is a lifelong contract about selling sex. In the vast majority of cases, it is the man that is buying and paying a price, and the woman that is selling and receiving the money. Occasionally a man is selling, too, but usually to a man, and the market for that is pretty small. The big market for sex is women selling to men; visual material, audio material and physical actions. (And the marriage bed. There is evidence of monetary returns to marriage for women, but not men.) In short, the sexuality of a woman is an asset. It can be hired out and sold. The sexuality of a man – cannot.

Let this sink in for a while, ladies. YOU have got the capital. And you largely have control over the price: your offer is in short supply and men’s demand is, hm, high. Higher than you think. Higher than they want you to think, possibly. And you can regulate your supply. Here is a secret: any signal of scarcity increases the price. This is the whole secret behind guys wanting a woman that hasn’t had many men: a signal that her capital is in scarce supply. True, it matters if you are surrounded by willing or less willing sisters, but you are much less substitutable than you think. And, paradoxically, scarcity signals make you less substitutable.

In countries where women don’t have much power they still hold sexual capital – and treasure it all the more. Hence the high regard for virginity in these places: a scarcity signal so strong it suggests a monopoly. Non-virgins don’t need to worry though; sexual capital is a renewable resource. As far as signaling goes, virgin is as virgin does (not did).

5 Steps to Call Love Into Your Life

Caitlin is a very attractive woman in her late thirties. The classical blonde, slim but with generous curves in the right places, and endowed with genes that will let her look 28 for a while still. She is as smart as she’s hot, with an Ivy League MBA, and working long hours. She has strong values and is beautiful on the inside too. The one thing she finds missing from her life is – a better half. She would like to marry, and she knows what kind of guy she is looking for. But not too many people are showing up, and she has not been happy with those who have. People who know her are puzzled that she, of all people, should still be single.

Caitlin is not a rare case among my acquaintances. I too am puzzled. But let’s take her case as an example and try to find avenues for love to enter her life.

  1. Work Less (and Better). Caitlin is single, without dependents to care for, and still her life is packed packed packed with barely a minute to spare. No. 1 reason: work. Caitlin works hours that are totally incompatible with a regular dating life let alone a family life. She needs to stick to the timetable in her contract, and make use of leave time, holidays, compensatory leave for long hours or weekends worked – whatever her employer’s rules allow. And she needs to study these rules and find out, and put her foot down if needed. Downtime is good for dating, and good for productivity at work. (The Economist says: she needs to reveal her true work-life trade-off preferences.)
  2. Use Your Work Hours Well. Of course the main focus of her work hours should be her tasks and professional goals. It may however be in the interest of her professional life to cultivate a network of peer experts for exchange and review, or to take group training, whether in leadership, a language, organizational skills or something else. These activities kill two birds with one stone; they promote professional development and foster personal encounters. Caitlin’s dream date may attend one of the trainings, or be a peer expert, but even if not, there may be a person who knows someone Caitlin should know.
  3. Meet Many Quality People. Twelve should suffice, but more doesn’t harm. In order not to waste her precious time, Caitlin should focus on social circles and activities that likely attract people with her core values. If she is an environmentalist – she should find the key environmental groups and events in town and attend them. If she practices a religion – she should attend their singles groups or affiliated dating agencies. ALL OF THEM. And then the non-affiliated (online) dating agencies, carefully ticking the boxes of what she needs in a guy. She must make clear that non-matches need not apply. If money is no issue, she should consider a professional matchmaker (the classical solution before the internet era). These people are trained and, depending on the agency, have access to a quality selection of singles the world over. There may be a location – love trade-off: if the best guy is in, like, London UK, she may need to move there.
  4. Tell The World. The previous two steps, and especially this one, are about cutting what Economists call ‘the information asymmetry’. Caitlin knows what she needs; the world – and especially Mr Right – do not. She can start by telling her friends (who tell their friends and so on). No worries about seeming desperate – talking about this shows confidence. If she has friends in the publishing industry, she may plot with them to find an excuse to portray her in a newspaper or newsletter or online community. Does she have a specific project she is leading, a volunteer activity or similar? Does she have an interesting story or experience to share? Have them narrate it, and portray her in the wake.
  5. Give Yourself Time And Space To Decide. Once the phone starts ringing and the invitations coming, Caitlin needs to make sure the dates are meaningful and help her decide. Dinner or coffee are good, picnic too. As are moderately strenuous sports from hiking to tennis: they all give you time to talk. Cinema and theater do not – although they give you a theme, and if followed up by a meal, might make sense. Meeting in public until she feels safe is a no-brainer. Group activities are important to see how the date behaves around others, but getting too close too soon, e.g. involving family or very close friends, may influence Caitlin unduly. She needs to decide. And how best to do that will be the feature of another column…

De-clutter Your Life So The Right Person Can Step In

Jim is a successful, financially independent guy with manly charisma. He is good at unwinding after busy work-days or –weeks, and fills his leisure with a host of interesting activities; he volunteers in the leadership of several NGOs, spends time with his nieces and nephews and aging parents, and likes to hike and travel the world. No surprise, he has had the girls line up for him. – But somehow things never quite fell into place. He didn’t manage to warm up to any lady in the line. The few times he did decide to date someone things didn’t last long. Always something missing. And those he really loved didn’t love him back.

A puzzle. Until one sees him interact with his family. One brother is a bit of a problem-case; and Jim is left to take care of him. A cousin criticizes him constantly and gives him catch-22 orders (=contradictory in themselves). The rest of the family are sweet and good-natured but don’t stand up for themselves. Jim does all the running. Always. It has been like this forever.

What Jim doesn’t realize is that every relationship is a trade. It is a giving and taking. Ideally, between fairly equal people. Also ideally, of people who care about each other as they care about themselves. But in any case, it is a mutual thing, an exchange of goods. And the exchange is worthwhile because it makes both parties better off. It cannot be taking only (what he experiences by his family) or giving only (what he is doing). If it’s not an exchange, there is no relationship.

Jim needs to do less and get more. He needs to let go a little in the dating world. And in order to be able to do that, he needs to let go a little at home. Let his critical cousin sort out the problem-brother. They might both benefit. He can also leave the good-natured ones to their devices.

He also needs to let go of perfectionism. People like the critical cousin seem to teach us that things should always be better, that everything is improvable. While this may be true, the other side of the coin is that nothing is perfect. Ever.

Once Jim has de-cluttered his life of unhealthy obligations, bonds, criticism and perfectionism there is space for the right woman to step in. And stay.

Good Things Happen to People Who…Wait

Victoria is a beautiful and educated young woman from a well-to-do family.  She is also not too easy to please. She loves good manners and protocol and has a well-developed appreciation for gentlemanlikeness. Including for men to make the first move and to invite the ladies; not the other way round. She has had several admirers. And turned them down time and again. While she turned 20…25…30…she dismissed men she found not good enough. She plainly refused to think about any ticking clock, going against the current in her peer group. And then she met John. He passed the bar and she had in fact met her soulmate. But that is another story.

Victoria waited. She was happy to wait and happy in her wait. She met her girlfriends regularly, she had a bookclub and went to a sports club. She also loved organizing charity events and mingled in her university’s alumni club. Her time was well and happily filled and there was probably too much buzz to hear any clock ticking. She also switched careers and became a ‘mature student’ again at age 28, getting her MD at 32. (She married John one year later, by the way.)

When people wait comfortably for a partner, the match will be better and more sustainable. This common sense insight has some solid economic theory to back it up. Dale Mortensen in ‘Partner for Life’ reviews the labor market literature that is applicable not only to employer-employee but also husband-wife partnerships. And finds that people who find a way to sweeten the wait end up better matched. (And the unemployed who receive an unemployment benefit end up in a better matched job. But that is another story.)

 

 

Are you ‘well matched’ with your partner? 5 Shades of Love

What is a good match? Which couples are ‘meant for each other’? I would assume that most people agree that a good match is one where the partners love each other. Very much.

But how can we get at the ‘love’ concept? With economics, of all sciences?

Lo and behold, one extra daring economist has tried to capture ‘love’ in economic terms. Some of you may have guessed: Gary Becker. Inspired by his writings, here are 5 aspects of love that economists understand.

Love is…

  1. Caring about the partner. This is best measured as altruism, a concept that economists are, on average, fairly familiar with. In economic terms, it means, my happiness (“utility”) improves, if my partner’s happiness improves.
  2. Trust. If you two really care for each other, you don’t have to watch your back that much. Your partner already will.
  3. Sharing and generosity. If your partner is happy about you being happy, it doesn’t matter so much if he eats the last piece of cake or if you do. He’ll be (nearly) equally happy.
  4. Enjoying things more if consumed together. If you really care for each other, you enjoy a joint dinner more than if each person eats in her own time. Dinner has altogether a new quality; it becomes hard to accept a separate dinner as a valid meal. The same is true for other items, travel, parties, reading a book, even trying out new fashion.
  5. Enjoying the same things. Because of 4, it also makes sense if you like the same things. The same books, countries, dinners and dinner times, places…

If you can capture love in economic terms, it also means you can measure it.

If you want to know how well you are matched, here are questions you should ask: 1) Is your partner happy, if you are happy? 2) Can you trust him; does he look out for your advantage as much as his? 3) How does he share whatever is scarce – time, cake, money? 4) How much more do you enjoy dinner when you are together rather than dinner alone?

And, finally 5) How long does it take to agree on the theatre play you are going to watch, or the kind of picture you are going to hang?

The answer to these will be telling…

Why Women Should Propose

Laura and her boyfriend Ed had dated for 6 years and lived together for five. They led a joyful, loving and successful life together as entrepreneurs in a European metropole. Their personalities completed each other: he, an introvert, polite, soft-spoken, laid back and the modern version of the humble scientist; she, an extrovert, passionate planner and organizer, presenter and confessing to an exhibitionist touch both professionally and privately. They indulged in the different hobbies they both brought to the relationship (he: avant-garde art, she: wedding fairs and books). They had jointly travelled half the globe, had a network of hundreds of common friends and intended to keep leading this life forever. The only thing missing: Ed just.did.not.propose. When Laura’s mother-in-law asked her about wedding plans, she owned up about the missing proposal. Ed’s mum then encouraged her to propose herself, as she thought would be fitting for an emancipated young woman. Laura plotted and planned and delivered a very romantic proposal to Ed. She proposed in a hot air balloon in the French countryside. Ed said yes. And for the protocol, he counter proposed not much later, in a helicopter. They have been married for 9 years now.

This may be the most radical post to date. Why should it matter who proposes? Other than for tradition, say. Well, tradition goes further than what we usually assume; it’s where the power sits. And if it is about proposing in a relationship, the first mover wins. He or she sets the agenda more than the one who reacts.

As reviewed by Nobel Prize Winner Dale Mortensen in 1988, an algorithm devised by Gale and Shapley in 1962 can be used to match employers and employees or husbands and wives. A series of matching outcomes is stable if no paired person has the desire to rather be single. However, in a given matching outcome some people can be better of than others. E.g. a matched person would not prefer to be single but rather be paired with someone else. While several people are happy with whom they are paired with. And it can be shown that the outcome is actually most favorable for those individuals who proposed the match first. They have more options to choose from than the ones who react and only can choose between different proposals.

So ladies, if you want to take charge of your relationship happiness, make a move. First.

 

I want my soulmate NOW! Fast!

Despite all the enlightenment we have provided here already – finding The One can be a messy, arduous and possibly slow process. For the busy singles of today; is there any way of speeding it up, or even delegating part of it?  – This story may ring familiar.

Noah is a senior government advisor working 11 hour days. While he enjoys being part of the inner circle around his country’s head of government, he dreads not having time for dates. He had intended to marry by the age of 30. Now, aged 35, he is starting to worry. He has high demands for the type of woman he wants to marry, such as a success level similar to his. Either way, there will be little time for dates during the next year too. Elections are looming and a crisis has weakened the country. Noah’s job gets irresistibly interesting and important just at a time when the prospect of (not) settling down gives him sleepless nights.

Noah gives up and embraces the uncoolness of signing up with a traditional dating advisor. While he does not enjoy the soul-baring during the initial meetings with the advisor, he does appreciate that a part of the effort is now delegated. Actual dates are pre-selected with insight, and Noah learns more on fewer dates. Within a year, he finds his significant other, a cute and successful health trust CEO, just a year younger than himself.

The idea is as old as human interaction: intermediators or middlemen. (Traders, bargainers, heralds, other communicators…and matchmakers). They can work well in any ‘market’. Some recent Nobel prize winners have shown they can do wonders in the labor market.  The middlemen’s role is to specialize in the search, and the sounding of a partner to an extent. They help bridge the information deficit between the searching parties. And because they are specialized, they develop expertise in doing this, they can do it faster, and with a wider reach.

There is one condition: there need to be many of them who compete with each other. This ensures that they try to be ever better and ever more productive.

Dating agencies improve everyone’s luck simply because every client improves every other client’s luck by being there. Every individual search effort is multiplied through the agency and benefits others. The economists who found this out even suggested the state subsidize ‘computerized dating agencies’ (the article predates online dating) for the benefit of all!

How long should you wait for sex?

Dear Economist,

how early in a relationship should you expect, or give in to, sex? I hear so many views on this topic that I am quite confused. Most guys want it as early as possible, and by the third date at the latest. Many dating gurus advise to wait – but not on how long. The only advice on timing comes from several world religions, which promote waiting until marriage. But how can this work in the modern world of dating? There seem to be no rules. – Now, do economists have a view on this?

Grateful for any light in this confusion, Yours, Katja

Dear Katja,

thanks for giving us an opportunity to answer this awesome question. We hear it a lot in conversation and counseling practice, but few people dare debate it online in a serious manner.

Yes – economists do have an opinion. A clear one, and empirically founded one. You should wait – for as long as you need a clear head to decide if the guy is the right one for you, and deserves your trust. (The question to you is then: what is ‘the right one’? If you are looking for someone to marry, then, yep, waiting until marriage is a good idea.)

Because after sex, the clear head will be gone and you will trust blindly. We owe this insight to a team of experimental economists at the University of Zurich. They tested the effect of oxytocin (the hormone women emit during orgasm, and also childbirth) on people’s judgment in an investment game. While the testees could still calculate well, they started to behave more trustingly and thereby opened themselves up to abuse.

Now, while it’s a good idea that mum and baby are bonded in blind trust, it may not be quite so useful in a dating relationship. Imagine you are high on oxytocin with someone that for some reason does not deserve your full trust. You risk being mucked about without even noticing.

You will say, great, but how can I ‘wait for sex’ in practice? My friends will think I’ve gone nuts.

First, your friends’ (or the majority’s) opinion should not come before your own wellbeing. Second, those who agree with the above (e.g. many world religions) have figured out all sorts of ways to delay sex until a time when it’s right. My favorite books on the matter haven been written by ladies who tested both worlds (waiting and not waiting)and then made their own conscious choice, Dawn Eden and  Wendy Shalit. You can save yourself your own trial-and-error by just reading about theirs.

Hope this works for you! Do check back in.

Best wishes,

Dr de Bergerac

How can a woman find her man?

Dear Economist,
much of your advice appears to be geared to men, who seem to be entitled ‘by tradition’ to be the active ones in courtship. What about women? Do economists have a view on gender differences in courtship? How can a woman find her man?
Sincerely, Emma

Dear Emma,

Well spotted. Much of the economic literature we apply to dating is indeed ‘non-gendered’ and gives the same advice to men and women. It looks like we are contradicting dating advice of the Mars and Venus kind.

But not quite. Economists have sometimes even assigned extreme gender roles. Lena Edlund rose to fame for a paper that assumed women were ‘sellers’ and men ‘buyers’ of sex, whether in a lifelong contract (marriage) or a temporary one (prostitution). The assumption is that women’s relative indifference to sex gives them a bargaining advantage.

Even if we want to take it a bit easier, the idea that women are sellers and men buyers in the dating game is not counterintuitive, and Dr de Bergerac found it to resonate with friends and family. Several successfully dating ladies reported the following activities as useful: putting up their profiles at online and other dating agencies, making sure they are socially active and well known (also see this article) and paying attention to their overall visual appeal. Exactly what a seller would do.

Try it out and let us know how it goes.

All the best,

Dr de Bergerac