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When economists began broadly applying their theories of rational choice-making, love and marriage were among the first areas they colonized.

Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker laid the foundations back in 1973 with his two-part article "A Theory of Marriage." Becker imagined society as an immense cocktail party with rational-minded daters searching for the most desirable partner who would have them.

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.

Surprisingly, she says, people are more honest there. Ellen has dabbled in online dating for almost two decades. And for a few years, I had profiles on Match and J-Date up at the same time.” Ellen's voice is warm and inviting. But as anyone who has spent more than five minutes in the dating scene knows, finding a true partner can be like searching for Waldo (as in “Where’s? And Waldo, Ellen says, was not on any of the dating sites she signed up for.

“I started online dating shortly after I got divorced in 1998,” Ellen, a psychiatrist, told me when I contacted her — through Craigslist, of course — to inquire about her ad. A stand-up comedian by night, she has a great sense of humor. “I learned to ask a lot of questions,” she told me when I asked what she had learned from her experiences.

By contrast, intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women's choices as men's.

But observed dating and marriage choices are at least as much a result of whom we meet as what we prefer.After two years of serving as academic love brokers, we had data on thousands of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools.By combining all of our choice and ratings data with separately collected background information on the daters, we could figure out what made someone desirable by comparing the attributes of daters that attracted a lot of interest for future dates with those that were less popular.Does all of this rational-choice stuff take the romance and mystery out of romance (just as some have accused my fellow economist Joel Waldfogel of taking the Christmas spirit out of Christmas)? Our purpose is to understand how life-long relationships are formed.The first step in helping people find love and happiness is to figure out what they're really looking for in the first place.

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