Opposites Distract

A Tale of Two Lives

My grandma Ann was a sporty, almost athletic woman who loved to swim. She had learned home economics in an exclusive boarding school and was a highly professional housewife. She knew the nutritional content of every staple food by heart and spent all morning cooking and straightening the house, aided by a maid. The afternoons were for looking after the kids and/ or paying and receiving calls. Her husband, my grandpa, worked long hours in his own law practice. I am not sure how much time their lifestyles left for joint leisure. On Sundays there was mass – which my grandma enjoyed and grandpa didn’t. And a bit of joint paying and receiving calls, according to a code that is no longer in use. (The maid would bring three business cards on a tray to announce a visiting couple: one from the wife and the husband each for grandma, and one from the husband for grandpa. Because a lady would not call on a gentleman.) My grandparents’ marriage project did not include a big plan for joint spare time; that was a secondary question if a question at all. They were from the same broader region but otherwise not very much the same. If they had something you could call hobbies, grandma loved doing sports with the kids, and churchy things. Grandpa went deer hunting with his buddies.Their tastes and views differed in books, music, politics and culture more generally. I know for a fact they voted for different parties all their lives. Opposites had attracted each other very much, they married young. It was more important for them to economically complement each other; grandma’s perfect running of the household including all nooks and crannies allowed grandpa to rise in his career, gain some notoriety in his profession and thereby build modest wealth for his family.

My other granny’s story is quite different. After secondary school, she had learned a trade that would earn her money. She worked several years as a commercial and legal secretary, and ended up running the front office of a regional court. Having turned down several marriage proposals, she may have started to worry parents and acquaintances with her insistence to marry for love alone. Finally, at the (then mature) age of 29, she accepted my grandfather who swept her off her feet. This marriage was two birds of a feather flocking together. Her teacher husband loved soft classical music, historic books and endless conversations with friends at least as much as she did if not more. They were both deeply religious; they also voted for the same party. The part time nature of their work allowed them to spend some leisure together and many family photos show the two of them with the kids. They took vacations and loved adventurous outings on their two huge motorbikes before the war did them part.

Love and technological change

What happened in the few years between my two grannies’ marriage dates? How come one follows a more traditional and one a seemingly more modern pattern? According to a paper by Lundberg and Pollak in 2007, two fundamental technical developments changed the lives of families in the first half of the 20th century: the surgence of household machines, and the pill. Before the advent of the machines, it was useful for partners to specialize, that is, for the husband to work and for the wife to look after the house and any children. Different skills sets and possibly different personalities in either half of the couple would allow this arrangement to work best. Tastes and likes were secondary, as Gary Becker’s seminal work on family economics underlines.

Household machines alleviated a housewife’s workload. A washing machine, even an antique one, allowed to handle multiples of the load that one could do with a scrubbing board on a basin. Coffee machines freed up one soul in the household to do something else for twenty minutes. This meant, that once the kids were in school, the woman could also go to work outside the house. Rewarded work made sense for women, and it made sense for their parents to invest in an education that would prepare for it. The pill (or other accessible forms of family planning) supported this trend as women could complete a full cycle of education well into their childbearing years. (On this one, also see Raquel Fernandez’s work.)

Women grew into a position to earn and to look after themselves. They did not need a breadwinner but won their own bread. In these circumstances, marriage was no longer a must. There were viable outside options for a young woman, at least economically; if probably at a social cost.

Love and leisure

Marriages became more of a choice than a necessity. They needed a joint fun component, and a leisure component. Joint leisure was made possible by the technological revolution in household machinery. In this world, husband and wife want to spend time together that they both enjoy. They want to have conversations for the sake of them, not because they are needed. To this end, it is recommendable to choose a partner that is similar in education and tastes. A partner that likes to do the same things in his leisure rather than a partner that occupies himself most efficiently in a complementary manner while his other half is also efficiently occupied in her job. The more salient joint leisure is in your life, the more opposites distract.

Social atavism?

The coupling of similar people is a feature we observe strongly in contemporary marriages. This so-called assortative mating has increased over time, and keeps increasing still. Partners are now usually close in education and wage, and also height, weight, and age. High-flying athletic lawyers tend to marry high flying athletic lawyers.  This does not mean that a regression on the social evolution over the generations is impossible. Opposites do find and attract each other sometimes, and it is not always clear where likeness ends and opposite-ness begins. In this day and age, however, there can be a tension between the economic reality and a traditional relationship model. Marriages between opposites last less long, on average, than those between well assorted mates.

Stop Worrying About The Kilos: Shapely Women, These Are Your Times!

Are you worried about those thighs? Does your bum look big in that? Well, if yes, rejoice.

A British study has recently found that men under pressure prefer shapely women. The researchers split a group of about 80 men randomly into two groups of about forty participants.  (The fact that the split was ‘random’, e.g. by lottery, is important. This means that each man had an equal chance of ending up in either group. And that the groups can be expected to be fairly similar after the split; similar in things you can see (like height, weight..) and and things you cannot see (like motivation, mood..). This is why true economists lurrve this type of experiment. But I digress…)

One group was asked to solve maths puzzles in front of a critical jury (howzat for being put under pressure), the other didn’t have to do anything. Both groups were then, independently, asked to rank pictures of women for attractiveness.

And lo and behold, the stressed out men preferred heavier built women. (The relaxed men preferred slightly underweight women.) Men under pressure need love handles. The researchers think this is because weight signals age and maturity and stressed men would appreciate the help of a mature partner. Yours truly thinks men also unconsciously know that those thighs come in handy in times of hunger or other economic distress.

This is consistent with another trend: in times of economic crises, the centrefolds in Playboy show heavier and older women than in times of growth. In economic drought, heavier women are hot, thinner women are not.

So, to the extent that the world is still recovering from the recent depression (which it is), your type, darling, sets the trend. 

 

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.

World Women’s Day: 5 Things That Happen When Women Have the Upper Hand In Dating

How can we find out what happens when women have the upper hand in dating? Does it ever happen? And what if? – One situation where women certainly have bargaining power is when men outnumber women. A high ratio of men to women means men compete for women and women can choose.

There are several situations where we find a high gender ratio: some countries (last week we discussed China), some immigrant communities, social groups and others.  Economists have studied several of these and have found 5 outcomes in the relationship world when women have the upper hand.

  1. There are more marriages. Groups where men outnumber women see their marriage rates go up, compared to groups with even gender ratios.
  2. Men earn more. As men have to make an effort to gain an edge over potential competitors for women, one area they excel in is income.
  3. Women tend to work less. Overall, fewer women choose to work outside the home. This suggests that, at least in the communities studied, many women had the latent wish to be homemakers.
  4. Couples earn more. Women, who choose to work, earn more on average than working women in gender-even societies. Combined with point 3, this means that women won’t get up for less than a certain salary any more.
  5. Children born in this environment are better off. After all the above, it’s an empirical fact that in societies where men compete for women, parents of young children earn more. Children grow up in wealthier households than in societies where women have less bargaining power.

In other words, based on robust evidence: bargaining power for women is a pretty good thing, for about everyone.

Are You The Odd Woman (or Man) Out? – 5 Things to Get You Into The Game

Clara is a beautiful woman of 38 years, well above average in looks, intelligence and success. With her golden brown hair and small round nose she looks kind of seasonal now – a bit angelic. Still, she is without a partner and in her social circles, feels like the odd woman out. Basically all men her age are partnered and the very few, who are not, objectively do not meet Clara’s attractiveness on any scale.  It feels like a matching game has been played and she was left out.

If Clara looks around her workplace and friends she will see that there is indeed a surplus of single women in her age range. (She works in a prestigious NGO.) This of course puts her at a disadvantage: if she has to compete with women for fewer available men, she will have to trade below par, or, in plain terms, lower her expectations below what she could get in a more gender balanced environment.

Therefore recommendation number 1 for Clara:

  1. Meet more people. Widen your circle of friends: you can re-discover a forgotten hobby, learn a sport you always wanted to – or start any new activity you are interested in to meet new people who are likely to become friends. More precisely:
  2. Seek out activities where the opposite gender is numerous. So, as a woman check out sports, outdoors, computer related hobbies and about everything that involves speed: car racing, speed boats and space tourism. (Examples courtesy of my husband.) As a man, seek out literature, the arts, yoga, zumba, prancercise and philanthropy. For example. Biking and running groups should work for both genders. And if you are really serious about settling down in the near future:
  3. Mind your values. In addition to the activities that just widen your circle, make sure to include some that foster values that are dear to you. Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples should have activities for singles. Causes like the environment, fair trade, mentoring of at risk youth can also help find and bond with kindred spirits.
  4. Focus on the essential. Arm yourself with a checklist of values and characteristics your partner would need to embody. I recommend between 3 and 8 – neither too few nor too many. You need to keep a mental note of these criteria with you at all times. People that don’t meet the list are out and have no claim on your (dating-) attention and time.
  5. Your dating objective first. If you are past 35 and unmatched, odds are that you gave generously of your time and attention to others, based on their need; maybe your family of origin, your work, or friends you felt needed you. These are all worthy claimants, but it’s time to re-focus on your own objectives. Your time and attention are first of all your own and you can employ them where you feel they best help you. (In other words: the earlier you learn to say No, the earlier you will say Yes to the right person.)

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…

There are no women where I work. How do I go about finding a mate?

Dear Economist,

I am 40, never married, and more than ready to settle down. But I work in a sector that is virtually free of women. So, although I don’t smell, am not dramatically stupid or unattractive, I do not meet enough eligible women to find a soulmate.  Do you know a way out? –  Sincerely, Out with the Guys.

Lonely Guy

Lonely Guy

Dear Out with the Guys,

a word of comfort: you are not alone with your problem. We regularly hear similar stories from IT geeks, engineers, and the army staff…just to name a few. We actually also hear them from primary school teachers, nurses and nannies….in short, any job where one gender vastly outnumbers the other.

You are suffering from a situation that George Stigler (‘The Economics of Information’, 1961) would call ‘high search costs’. You can meet women, get to know and date them, but your ‘cost’ of doing so is much higher than in an evenly gendered market. You probably have to travel to meet a woman of your age, spend more money on gas, the phone and mail to keep in touch, and spend more time thinking about where to meet the right woman. All these are ‘costs’.

As you can read from our previous post, the first phase of the dating game can be seen as a search effort, similar to checking out various products before we know the quality range available in the market. Checking out an additional product provides you with a knowledge gain about the quality range. But, as the range is given, and won’t expand with searching, the benefit of getting to know an additional item – or person, rather – diminishes with each person met.  At the same time, the cost of meeting another person stays the same, for each and every additional person met. In your case, this cost is rather high.

Usually, a rational person stops searching when the additional benefit of meeting another person has diminished so far that it is equal to the cost of meeting another person. In your case, if we leave everything as it is, this situation would actually occur rather early. You would date few people before you settle, because the cost is just so high. In other words, you are readier to commit than some of your fellow daters.

This in itself makes you quite eligible for the other gender. Women tend to get serious with men who are ready to get serious.

On the other hand, we don’t have to leave everything as it is. You can lower your search costs, e.g. by using online dating, matching services, newspaper ads; and also, old-fashioned but effective: drawing on family and friends networks. If you want to maximize your search efforts even further, target your outings from the Guys’ Enclave towards places where you are likely to find many women: kindergartens, spas, cosmetic and shoe shops, aerobics, dance and yoga classes, classical music concerts, church and synagogue, and book clubs, just to name a few. Also, if you weren’t in a Guys’ Enclave previously, think back to that time and the women you knew then: anybody you would like to get back in touch with?  – Go for it (as long as she’s still free and not an ex) and reap the benefit of previously invested search expenditure.  – We don’t promise miracles, but the above efforts should dramatically improve your likelihood of meeting Mrs. Right.  FYI, Dr de Bergerac and her spouse (re)met like that, when actually already well past thirty, and so did a couple among their friends.

Now that we have more or less devised a strategy, let’s look at the likely outcome of a situation like yours. Being the majority gender may actually not be the worst thing (depending on the ratio..) especially if you are a guy. It is true that usually, the ‘outnumbered’ gender is the secret winner of a gender ratio out of sync, enjoying the competition for their favours, and dictating the market rules. So if more men compete for less women, the women dictate the rules. Turns out that in a dating market, that is not the worst thing. Joshua Angrist of the MIT found out that in communities where men outnumber women, there are more marriages, men earn generally more and parents of young children earn more. (How do Sex Ratios Affect Marriage and Labor Markets?, QJE 2002) Looks like in some areas of life, it’s ok to have the rules written by the ladies…

In any case, best of luck, and check back in with your success story.

Your Economist

How many people should I date?

Dear Economist,
I am usually a patient person, but maybe I am overdoing it. I have dated about five different girls, and more or less seriously, but I can’t decide myself. One’s advantages are another’s disadvantages. I know nobody’s perfect – but when should I stop? When can I be sure to have dated enough people to settle down?  – The process of serious dating isn’t exactly cost-free you know…your advice much appreciated!  – An efficient dater.

man waiting to settle

Dear Efficient Dater,

you are raising a very good question. The answer is, as you probably suspected, there is indeed an optimal number of people to date; a limit after which you can be confident with your choice.  – Economics provides a reason for why there is a limit, and statistics tells you when you have reached it. Let’s start with the economic part.

It was George Stigler, who, as far back as 1961, made a case for limiting one’s search. (He thought more about searching the optimal household appliance, but his reasoning holds just as well for dating..) Stigler says, any market has a given range of quality. We don’t manage to expand that range by searching more, we just get to know it better. In other words, the more you search, the closer you are to having tested the entire available quality range. This also means, with every additional person that you meet and date, your additional knowledge gain diminishes.

At the same time, the effort, time and money spent on an additional date do not diminish. So you are likely to have ‘spanned’ the quality range after a limited number of dates, after which additionals only cost time and money, but do not provide quality gains. Rational daters will settle after reaching this number.

So, where is that number, on average? The answer is twelve.  Knowing twelve people should be enough to know the quality range available in the dating market.  Peter Todd from the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research did the odds (in his paper ‘Searching for the next best mate’, ebda 1997). Following Todd’s ‘fast and frugal algorithm’, if you date twelve people and then choose the one further person that tops the list, you have a 75% chance of getting it right.

So, bottom line, dear Efficient Dater, you are not there yet. You need to hold out for another 7. If you are honest and stay out of the bases there’s nothing wrong with checking them out in parallel. Might be less costly, too.

Good luck, Your Economist