3 Consequences on the Economics of Dating Tinder Users Should Know About
Dating for millennials is getting harder for 3 reasons, all taking root in the same phenomenon: abundance.
Abundance is transforming the nature of dating from a social activity to a market of goods with its own rules and economy.
Economics teaches us that when the volume of a product increases, the (estimated) value of these goods declines (1).
Since the cost of acquiring the good is lower, consumers are both less willing to make efforts to acquire it (2) and to subsequently maintain it (2).
Furthermore, as they are offered more choices, consumers’ standards, and expectations regarding the product rise (3).
We discuss in this article the three consequences of abundance in the dating pool and what it implies for dating as a millennial in the 21st century.
Abundance in Dating
Back in times when the Earth population did not go over one billion (1804), the dating pool was scarce for both men and women (even though less for the latter). Rules regarding companionship were established by culture and religion and the relationship was “contracted” through marriage.
Alliances had plenty of purposes. Royal couples unified nations, and royal divorces split countries and institutions (Henry VIII and the Catholic Church).
People weren’t “dating” for love, but for material or power purposes. Marriages were transactional and love had low value (or at least, was low on the list of priorities). As such, it was most often extra-marital.
Then society evolved.
Cities expanded, choice in partners broadened, women acquired the freedom to make use of their own bodies as they pleased and sexual relationships lost their “importance” and seriousness.
Sex became normal and “more abundant”.
While it became easier to find and practice sex (compared to the past when you’d have to get married to do it), both men and women still had to “invest” to get it.
Clothing, make-up, gym memberships, drinks, club entrance tickets, discussions, and overall, time were necessary investments for “customers” to acquire the goods they wanted.
And such as for all things worth pursuing, the rarer they are, the higher they’re valued.
Then came Tinder
And then came technology, and above all, Tinder. The app did no less than revolutionizing “the dating pool” and literally changed its codes.
While in the past, the dating pool was equal to the number of people one met in bars and cafes, Tinder exploded the availability of potential partners by offering everyone and anyone…everyone and anyone.
While one guy had maybe 4 or 5 options to choose from his social circle or nights out, Tinder upped the choice by a factor of, according to my own metrics, 2000%. I’d estimate the multiplier to be even more extreme for girls, with options being in the likes of 20-30 through social circles and nights out, subsequently multiplied by a factor of 10 000% or so on the app.
This explosion of abundance had three consequences on the so-called “dating market”.
Firstly, the value of goods (understand: potential partners) declined.
1. The Devaluation of Dating Goods
When the availability of goods increases in volume, their value, whether real or estimated, declines as ease of access increases.
Think about the difference between acquiring a Logan Dacia and a Lamborghini.
First of all, there aren’t that many Lamborghini shops.
Second of all, it is much more expensive (understand: the investment to make to acquire it is much higher).
If the abundance of a good increases, the cost and the investment needed to acquire a good decline. Scarcity decreases and consumers are not as motivated to acquire the good as they used to be – because it does not appear as valuable anymore.
2. Everyone Is Making Fewer Efforts to Date
Before we go any further, we need to define the dating market.
The dating market is weird. The consumer…is also the product. As such, the effort consumers invest in acquiring a product is equal to their own value as a product.
Your investment to acquire the product = your own value as a product
When you go on a date, you want to check if the person you’re having a date with suits you. You have a consumer mentality – that potential love interest is the product.
However, you’re also the product of the person sitting in front of you. They are also going to judge your value in their eyes.
As such, a consumer’s product is also the consumer of the product that consumes it (you are the consumer of a product who is consuming you as a product).
Logically, whatever has consequences on the overall consumer behavior will have consequences on product quality, since the consumer is also the product.
When a consumer becomes less invested in acquiring a product, its own product quality decreases as a result.
Let’s take a practical example.
Let’s imagine you get one date per year. Since this date is rare, you will invest a lot in it – you will look good, you will be pleasant and try to appear as attractive as possible in the eye of the person sitting in front of you.
Since your investment, as a consumer, is high to maximize the chances to acquire the product (because the product is rare), your own value as the product appears equally higher.
Now let’s say you get to have two dates per week.
Will you be as motivated to please your date knowing that you’ll get another one that may even be better in a couple of days?
As such, your own value as a product will decrease because you’ll be less interested to invest to acquire the product in front of you because there is plenty of others like them.
We desire less what we can easily get.
Now, imagine you decide to acquire the product (aka you start dating full time).
In a world of scarcity, you’d hold onto the product longer than in a world of abundance.
To get back to the example of the car, you’ll try to keep the Lamborghini longer because it is rarer than the Logan Dacia.
The opposite is true for the Dacia.
In case the good is abundant, you’ll tend to make fewer efforts to maintain it.
Translation: since the number of people to have relationships with is higher, people make fewer efforts to keep the relationships they currently have.
This issue may be the biggest problem millennials will ever have to face in their lives.
Millennials were born in a world of abundance and easiness. Nothing is really expensive, nothing is really difficult to acquire.
As a result, millennials are not used to invest nor make a lot of efforts to acquire what they desire. This is illustrated by them being early quitters, and having empty relationships.
The problem of acquiring a relationship is that it is not like acquiring a vacuum cleaner. Relationships are hectic and demand investment both at the beginning and throughout the ownership period.
Millennials, untrained and unable to both think long term and invest heavily into something that, despite its appearing abundance, is scarce, quit their efforts and go back shopping, hoping to find a more suitable product to their taste.
Let’s summarize what we have seen so far.
Tinder offered millennials an increase of potential partners which has led to a loss of value of these potential partners. Faced with a lower acquisition cost and more options, millennials lowered their own investments into acquiring love partners, which has lowered their own value as dating products.
As a result, everyone’s value/investment into and regarding dating has lowered.
We will now speak of the third consequence of abundance in the dating pool: the rise of standards and expectations.
3. Abundance Leads to a Rise in Standards and Expectations
When I go shopping with my cousin and the parking lot is full, we park in the first parking slot we pass by.
When the parking lot is empty, my cousin takes twice as much time to find the perfect parking slot.
This is because choice raises our standards and expectations.
When you don’t have a choice, you’re happy to accept whatever you are handed. When you do have a choice, you must make a list of criteria to choose that which suits you best, since you can’t have everything.
As the dating pool became more abundant, people (consumers) became more demanding in what they were looking for.
They started looking for higher quality people.
This is a huge problem since as we have seen, the quality of the dating pool didn’t improve.
While Dating Conditions Worsened for Everyone, It Improved for a Small Minority
Tinder offers abundance → the value of potential partners decreases → millennials invest less into acquiring and keeping love partners because the price has decreased → millennials’ value as dating products decreases in return → as choice increases, standards and expectations increase as well.
In theory, no one would be dating anyone, since everyone would be looking at quality they wouldn’t be able to get.
In practice, it is not entirely true.
While theoretically, everyone’s value lowered, some people went smart and actually raised theirs simultaneously.
As such, the dating market didn’t collapse onto itself…it polarized.
You know the saying “the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer?”
That’s exactly what’s happening with the dating market as we speak.
What used to be the “middle class” lost value and simultaneously raised its standards.
It’s the economic equivalent of earning less money while simultaneously spending more – aka borrowing.
As people look for more attractive than them, the beneficiaries of the polarization of the dating market became…the very attractive people.
People of similar quality used to date each other.
Today, however, Tinder users are aiming for higher quality than themselves. They’re borrowing.
The only ones benefiting from this are the ones consumers are spending their loans on: the very attractive people (understand: the products with the highest value).
Tinder Is Not a Market
Like all topics explained economically, it’s great as long as you remain within the boundaries of theory.
In practice, Tinder is not a market because people are not products, and partners are not looking to maximize “their purchase”.
You may get married to someone and everything looks perfect, without knowing that there actually is someone else with which your marriage would be even better.
This is because people don’t fall in love with other people like they buy cars and vacuum cleaners.
While I do believe that value plays a role in love (Justin Bieber and Ryan Gosling wouldn’t exist otherwise), dating is not only a numbers game.
It’s also a game of luck and chemistry, almost a game of fate.
That being said…while the dating pool is not a market, Tinder does transform it into one. Tinder users increasingly behave like consumers and go on dates with the same mindset they’d adopt going shopping.
As a result, the decisions they make regarding buying or not resemble that of shopping.
It is yeah. Or neh.
Forget about feelings. Forget about risks. Forget about the will to impress. Forget about the thrill to pursue.
The person you go on a date with is a consumption product.
That’s the biggest mistake consumers are making.
Your Tinder date is not a consumption product.
It’s an investment.
What’s the Solution?
First off, people need to realize that if they want to date quality, they must themselves be quality.
Yes, it’s not really nice to say, but it is the truth.
If you want to raise the quality of your potential partners, you must first raise your own.
Second, partners should be encouraged to invest more in the acquisition and maintenance of a relationship instead of giving up.
Marriage appears as the favorite contender to solve that issue.
Marriage only makes sense when two people engage each other to make their relationship work whatever the cost.
Should you ask for my personal opinion, I’d say the cost of marriage is simply too high for me to ever sign the contract, but I can’t deny it helps and protects a lot of people with their relationships.
It ensures both spouses invest whatever they have in their mutual link and prevents giving up, or not investing enough.
Relationships are chaotic, and while quitting may seem like a reasonable idea amid a fight, staying together, growing and persevering may in the long term, yield better results for both partners.
Emotions and economics form a weird mix.
The Bottom Line
Dating has never been so hard…and easy at the same time.
It is hard because people are willing to invest less into it, but it is easy for anyone that manages to raise their value above average, as they’ll have plenty of potential partners to date.
This polarization of dating is no good though.
The truth is that both should make more efforts.
Dating is hard.
The perks are nice.
But it is hard.
This is the fundamental lesson millennials should think about when they meet their 5th different match of the month.
They are not on Tinder to make a buying decision.
They’re there to decide whether they want to invest.
For more economics content, head to bornmillennials.com.