There Is Just No Man!

I don’t know about you, but I have just met one beautiful and accomplished single woman too many. There are three, no, wait, four, acquaintances on the top of my head, spanning the twenties to the forties, who are stunningly gorgeous, pleasant characters, academic and professional high achievers – and single. And it’s not that they want to be; they just happen to be single. They would love a man that is a good match for them, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone eligible around.

What is happening here? Well, Your Economist has three theses on what’s going on. And three antidotes.

  1. Don’t be too modest. Many beautiful high achievers, I am sure, have been told from an early age to be humble and self-effacing. To counteract the stunner effect with an overdose of modesty, so their classmates and relatives can bear the sight and sound of them. That trick may have worked for social integration, but it is a killer on the dating market. Robust evidence shows that popular and outgoing girls are asked out the most. So, darling: get yourself on that pedestal. Be the one to announce the student union activity, the new task force at work, or the new charity project at church. You want to be that girl behind the mic that has all the eyes and ears on it for a moment.
  2. Cast your net widely. If you are ‘rare’ on any trait (rare beauty, rare intelligence, rarely sporty, rare height…) whoever matches you will be equally ‘rare’. If there are not enough eligible people where you roam, roam in other places: go online, visit that aunt on the other coast, let your friends set you up. Let go of the thought that the internet and blind dates are for losers. They are not. They are for choosers.
  3. Make. Time. If you live a lifestyle that only works for a childless single, then that’s what you’ll end up being. If you work endless hours and weekends; if your scarce leisure time is planned out without flexibility, then where will a partner and maybe a family fit in? When will your radar be relaxed and clean enough to register Mr. or Mrs. Right, and recognize them as such?

No guarantees. But these three potions should let an eligible man or two appear.

The Price of Naptime

You know what’s the best time of the day? If you are a parent of young children that is. Naptime. Those 1-2 hours in the afternoon they nod off and let you be. One good hour for mum and dad to do what they want, alone or, together. Read a book, write a blog, engage in a passionate conversation. Essential. Restoring. For body, mind, soul – and sanity.

Of course, this one hour is only worth so much because the other hours of the day are filled with toddlers’ laughter, their crazy and creative ideas, needs, energy and wisdom. It is a clear case of diminishing returns. Given that this is one hour only, it is valued highly. One hour more would still be fun, two hours more (of productive solitude) would be helpful, but three kid free leisure hours would probably max out the fun, and any further minute would be boring and lonely.

Ok, just wanted to quickly get this message out before a little chocolate stained finger tries out my keyboard, as the soft steps on the corridor seem to announce…

 

Why the Rise of Women Means They Marry Later

Today The Economist discusses the conflicting views on marriage between younger and older Chinese generations. Younger women in particular appear to receive increasing pressure from their families to marry and marry young, while the women themselves would prefer to wait (and be choosier). The trend goes hand in hand with rising empowerment and better career prospects for women.

What’s happening? Three things are at play here (and were missed by The Economist.)

#1 Marriage is no longer an economic necessity for women. With women earning their own living, marriage becomes a nice-to-have, from formerly a must-have.  In this situation, not only is the urgency gone, but different factors govern women’s choices. This is the situation of the young women. While the older generation may still perceive a world of must-have marriages.

#2 Professional women have other things to do. As I pointed out here, many professional, attractive, intelligent women are single at a marry-able age, and those who marry, marry later than the population average. Science says they also have better things to do than the population average. If a date competes with work that is fulfilling, bodes success and a higher income – then the date better be at least as fulfilling, easy-to-present-to-others, and liquid. Of course work and relationships fulfill different needs – but they also compete for the same, scarce resource: time. Professional women have less time and higher demands for relationships, given their alternative options. Both together are likely to keep them single.

#3 In China in particular, women wait because they can. Already in the 1990s, scientists reported skewed sex ratios at birth in China. Now, the gap between the genders is a sizeable ‘gulf’.  In this situation, with more men competing for fewer women, the gentle gender determines the rule of the game. And that likely involves waiting for their best bet. On their terms.

5 Trends in Sexual Mores and What They Mean

The Economist recently reported about shifts in sexual mores in Britain, but interestingly left out almost all economic interpretation and especially outlook. Let’s make up for it here.

  1. Both men and women are strongly and increasingly intolerant of marital infidelity. Wonderful. The boundary around the joint marital territory, and around the (property) rights acquired by marriage has just become firmer. In future, you will be more secure in your marriage and can trustfully invest in it.  Your Economist predicts (continuation in the) increase in marriage rates, and an increased willingness of spouses to give up things when they get married.
  2. Sexually transmitted infections do no longer rise among those below 24. The sharpest fall is among teenagers. (Teenage pregnancy has not been so rare since 1969.) The young crowd has gotten an updated message: your responsibility is no longer covered, no pun intended, by using a condom alone. There are a lot of nasty things you can catch in spite of using one. Your Economist predicts a continuation of this trend until teenage pregnancy is virtually unmeasurable.
  3. STI do increase in all older age groups. Well, the older crowd is still living the old message: use a condom and all is fine. A pity the article does not say which STI’s increase. Your Economist guesses it’s Syphilis, Chlamydia, Herpes and any other little bug that laughs at condoms. Not HIV. Your Economist predicts that the older crowd will eventually either learn from the young crowd or read the news more intently (like this article) and then also embark on a healthier lifestyle.
  4. Couples have slightly less sex (now than in 2000). The Economist quotes scientists that blame the recession. Your Economist blames the on-going rise in labor productivity. People work harder, whether in the private or public sectors. This is especially true in countries with regressive demographics. My retired uncle complains he can no longer have drinks with his former colleagues because ‘what three people used to do is now being done by one’. I’m sure the same colleagues’ spouses have similar issues of finding time and leisure.
  5. Tolerance for diversity (especially gay relationships) has increased. Well, knowledge has increased. Most people know gay people, and know when people are gay. There is no longer a need to hide or mislabel the relationship. Openness begets openness in what seems an exponential relationship. And personal evidence is too strong an antidote for myths.

5 Things That Keep You Faithful

It’s wonderful to marry. It’s wonderful to be married. And in many cases it’s wonderful to stay married for life. There are the obvious exceptions when relationships become unbearable at least for one party. But there are also the break-ups that needn’t be. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I see many broken up marriages that could have been great. No abuse anywhere, two intelligent and loving people with great hope…but often – unfaithfulness creeping in out of nowhere.

Sometimes I see the first symptoms; partners not wearing their wedding band and giving a pretend-unmarried face to the world and their colleagues. When in reality they are very married. Or people sending mixed signals: no wedding band, but frequent mention of their partner. Unless the person is affiliated to a culture that doesn’t know the ring as a symbol – I don’t trust the wedding-band shirkers, also in matters unrelated to marriage.

So today’s column is about staying faithful. More precisely, about how to resist the temptation to the contrary. Our recommendations are inspired by recent research from a team of international sociologists, and actually apply to various areas of life:

  1. You can successfully say ‘No’ to temptation most of the time. Among common daily temptations (not necessarily for relationships, but for example for ice cream, internet surfing etc), people fail to resist only 17% of the time.
  2. But beware: self-control tires out. Resistance is a depleting reservoir. Failure occurs after many successful attempts to fend off temptation.  The main recommendation coming out of this is the next point:
  3. The best strategy to resist temptations is to avoid them altogether. In this way, you do not have to use your weakening resistance muscle, and can keep it ready for the unavoidable temptation. Faithful people work mainly by avoiding temptation, not by fighting it.
  4. Alcohol not only weakens resistance but actually makes temptation stronger. Stay away from alcohol and other mind-altering drugs. Also,…
  5. Stay away from people who yield to the temptations you want to avoid. Watching others succumb to a temptation makes you more likely to do the same. I guess, in the case of infidelity, which always involves two, this argument is even stronger: if you are around people who are ready to be unfaithful, it is more likely to happen to you.  – So, switch workplace, sports club or other circles if they have a high density of cheaters.

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…

Time and Babies

Dear Economist,

my husband and I are planning to have a baby. Of course we already hear more advice than we want to. But what do you think: will a baby change our relationship? How? Will it make us happier?

Thank you, Veronica

Dear Veronica,

Let’s compare the pre-baby and post-baby worlds from an economist’s perspective. One basic economic choice to make is how much to work vs how much leisure to enjoy. More work means more money and more things you can consume; and it also means less leisure. In the pre-baby world, you and hubby have already made this choice. You chose a job, and with it a certain salary and a certain amount of work hours. If you and hubby care a lot about each other and about the same things, you likely arranged your work in a way that allows you to enjoy leisure together. This usually entails some sharing of chores, for example. (Compare this Daily Comment.)

As you already made this choice when entering post-baby world, your leisure hours are pretty fixed. Now, with a baby, a large chunk of one person’s leisure hours will be committed to baby care. There are different ways you can go about this, and some will likely make you happier than others. If you are not very interested in baby care, and assume the load alone, it will feel like a proportional reduction in your leisure time. Leisure gone and nothing in return – and you will likely be less happy than before. If you like baby care (as I assume you do, because you want a baby), then you will enjoy the hours of baby care, like nothing you ever experienced before. If your husband is of the same view, joint caring will be like leisure spent jointly and much fun. And it will strengthen your relationship.

One caveat, even for the sunny scenario. Baby care, like any fun activity, has diminishing returns. A further hour spent on it is less fun than the first hour. What is more, in this particular case, the returns are very non-linear. I.e. after pretty much a plateau of reasonably high returns, they diminish markedly and care can become very tiring. It is a good idea to find out (and be honest about) this inflection point for yourself and husband. Make sure to involve help for the hours beyond this point, from a baby sitter, grandparents or others. You, hubby and also your kids will be the happier for it..

Your Economist

 

Who tells the truth, husbands or wives?

Scientists who collect survey data talk to a lot of people and ask them a lot of questions. That includes a lot of husbands and wives. Sometimes they ask the same question to both, but in separate meetings. For example about what the couple own, how they spend their time, how many kids they have and how many more they want.

What is reassuring is that husbands and wives give mostly the same answers. For nearly any question, 100% of husbands and wives agree on what is going on (says some recent research on this).

On some questions however, husbands and wives disagree more. Some of these are on opinions, like ‘how big do you want your family to be?’ It’s quite possible that couples do not agree. Or maybe they don’t talk much about it. But others are about clear facts, as in: do you use contraception? In the cited research, men tended to paint a more socially popular picture than their wives, on questions related to family planning and sexual health.

Hm. Maybe due to context. Or maybe not.

What can be done? Well, the effect was actually more marked in areas where women had lower status relative to men. Areas with more equity between men and women showed more consistency.

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.