book reviews

Book Review: Everything I ever needed to know about economics, I learned from online dating.

Everything I ever needed to know about economics, I learned from online dating. Paul Oyer. Havard Business Review Press 2014.

I was told about this book when I posted this question on an economics forum. The city library didn’t have it stocked, so I filled in a request form and two weeks later they emailed me saying that they now had it.

The book is as good as its clever pop title suggests it might be.

It’s a light, easy and entertaining read. Paul Oyer takes a shameless economic approach to discussing the dynamics of online dating. While on one hand he uses economics and game theory to explain why people act a certain way in online dating, at the same time he uses the dynamics of online dating that we might be familiar with, to outline economic concepts. The reader thus becomes more informed about the dynamics of online dating and dating in general, as well as economics in general.

The book is fairly short, I read it in a week reading about an hour a day. You could finish it in a weekend no worries if you had the time.

I won’t summarise all of the points Oyer makes, the book is short and easy enough to read yourself. However, I’ll share a couple of thoughts I had in reading it.

The basic premise Oyer makes from chapter one is that people are always looking for their highest value possible mate, even if they’ve successfully romantically matched someone. Someone settles, and discontinues their search for a higher value mate, when they evaluate that the cost of continuing search exceeds to possible additional value they’ll find. Oyer likens this search to the search between employers seeking employees, where either party might settle for a matching that isn’t their perfect job or perfect employee, because it’s too costly to continue searching. He then outlines various techniques used to assist in the search.

One interesting point Oyer made, was that for some people, their cost of search is negative – that is they’re actually getting a benefit out of searching for their perfect mate – they’re having fun, going out to dinner etc. This explains why some people don’t settle, even if they’re attracting plenty of good mates – they’re having too much fun dating to discontinue their search for the perfect mate. This resonates with my experience. In the past I’ve been happily single or dating casually and meeting people, but not willing to settle into a more serious relationship. Recently though, the appeal of meeting new people seems less attractive than the appeal of talking to someone regularly. Oyer doesn’t explicitly mention what causes one’s cost of search to increase, but I’d suggest that it’s matter of the novelty of dating wearing off, one’s values changing with maturity, and one’s biological clock ticking.

I started reading the book about two weeks after I deleted my Tinder profile, having gotten frustrated with it, and one chapter poignantly explained why my experience might have changed. Oyer gives the example of a book club. A single man seeking romance might realise that a book club has a high proportion of women, and so joining the book club would be an effective use of time for meeting a potential mate. However, as more men make this realisation and join the club, the proportion of men increase, and our initial man might consider that the book club is no longer the most effective use of his time. At the same time, the women in the book club while maybe enjoying the company of the additional man at the start, may become disillusioned with the new men joining for the intent of romance, and leave.

What this highlights is that online dating pools, like Tinder aren’t static, and can’t be modelled statically (ie. You can’t formulate a set of strategies for approaching dating in a certain pool, because by the time you have, the rules have changed). Where two years ago when I first joined it may have been a lot more novel, you might find that some people have found their match on the app and dropped out, and others are less enamoured with the concept, and others are more jaded. The idea of dynamically evolving dating pools was a new one for me, and is helpful in understanding why one’s experience with dating may change over time.

Overall, it should be clear that I think this is an excellent book, and is well worth purchasing to add to your bookshelf. It’s a very easy read and makes for some great discussion points, even if you disagree with what might be considered an unromantic approach to thinking about dating.

The book sets a good standard for discussing dating and relationships I hope that more books continue in this vein.

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