Speed Dating

When people talk about economics seeking to colonise the social sciences, this is the kind of paper they have in mind.

Can Anyone be “The” One? Evidence on Mate Selection from Speed Dating
Michèle Belot and Marco Francesconi
Abstract: Marriage data show a strong degree of positive assortative mating along a variety of attributes. But since marriage is an equilibrium outcome, it is unclear whether positive sorting is the result of preferences rather than opportunities. We assess the relative importance of preferences and opportunities in dating behaviour, using unique data from a large commercial speed dating agency. While the speed dating design gives us a direct observation of individual preferences, the random allocation of participants across events generates an exogenous source of variation in opportunities and allows us to identify the role of opportunities separately from that of preferences. We find that both women and men equally value physical attributes, such as age and weight, and that there is positive sorting along age, height, and education. The role of individual preferences, however, is outplayed by that of opportunities. Along some attributes (such as occupation, height and smoking) opportunities explain almost all the estimated variation in demand. Along other attributes (such as age), the role of preferences is more substantial, but never dominant. Despite this, preferences have a part when we observe a match, i.e., when two individuals propose to one another.

You should feel free to use this opportunity to expound on speed dating or the role of economics in the social sciences, as fits your fancy.

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7 Responses to Speed Dating

  1. Verdurous says:

    Colonisation would have to mean more than just using statistical concepts and methods common in the field of economics. The excerpt above doesn’t make any reference to monetary transactions and is not therefore an economics paper. It is broadly speaking sociology which, like economics, falls under the banner of the social sciences.

    There are pluses and minuses about economists venturing outside the narrow traditional confines that the field has encompassed.

    The downside is the possibility of us seeing all problems through a purely economic lens (eg. the fact that it took the Stern report to get governments’ attention on the “cost” of global warming when in fact no one seriously considers inaction an option.)

    The upside is that there is now more than ever a need for transdisciplinarity, particularly between ecology and economics. We must all start using a wide-angle lens from time to time. The trouble now though, is that economics, business and commerce faculties are flush with money and the poor bloody science and arts faculties are starved of funding. So the dialogue is for the most part one way and we do start to see some sense of colonisation.

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    The excerpt above doesn’t make any reference to monetary transactions and is not therefore an economics paper.

    There’s nothing that says that economics is only about money. All first year economics start with models of ‘utility’, and almost all economists would agree that Becker’s work on the family was economics. Try Ed Lazear’s definition, in his (in)famous paper Economic Imperialism:

    over the years, three themes have become fundamental in economics. First, economists assume that individuals engage in maximizing, rational behavior. Second, economics adheres strictly to the importance of equilibrium as part of any theory. Third, economists place a heavy emphasis on a clearly defined concept of efficiency.

  3. Christine says:

    I think I suggested a different speed dating paper as a contender for an Ig Nobel at one point. This looks like it’s replicating that one. Bad people! Why do they keep on doing things that I think are silly?

    If we’re trying to learn about marriage, wouldn’t we perhaps be concerned that people using speed dating are wild outliers in the population as a whole? Or that if they’re not, they’re just using it as a bit of a joke? Plus, marriages don’t tend to be based on just first impressions – there’s a lot more learning involved than that.

    Verdurous: Not so sure about economics having more money than the sciences. There are a lot of economists who are going through medical research councils to get funding for projects that would never be funded through social science research councils. And I agree monetary transactions aren’t a necessary for economics to be useful. Even by the most basic definition of economics “allocation of scarce resources to unlimited wants”, the marriage example fits.

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  5. Verdurous says:

    I’ll definitely concede that my suggestion that monetary transactions must be an essential component of an economics study is overly restrictive. A brief web search shows that there are scores of definitions used for “economics”, many of which take a broader line. It would seem that Lazear and perhaps many in the profession point to some core features – maximising behaviour, equilibirum theory and efficiency concepts. This would seem to be a way of defining economics as a technique rather than a defined field of study – a verb rather than a noun to be cute about it. Or perhaps a template that can be applied to all manner of problems. I’ve got no problem with this, although it is at odds with common parlance. For example if we see a headline in a magazine/newspaper referring to “the economics of organised crime”, then I would suggest the general public would be very confused/surprised were it not to include any discussions of money, wealth, funding, finance.

    Briefly a point or two about the Lazear article you’ve linked to (which I am half way through). Rigid application of mathematics in the social sciences (as he promotes) requires caution. Many biological and physical systems in the real world are not in (or even tend towards) equilibrium. The field of complexity tells us about stable, non-linear systems which are far from equilbrium. This is an incredibly important point. It may well apply to financial markets for example. Assumptions in the sciences do matter and it is important that models and theories concord as closely as possible with real world observations. I know that you are strong advocate on this last point Andrew.

    All said though, divisions between fields of knowledge are man-made and here’s a toast to stronger ties between the disciplines.

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  7. Emma H says:

    How about this short piece on the use of different auction strategies to find a partner? http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/10/auction_strateg.html. It compares use of the Dutch auction – set your standards and lower until someone meets them – and the English auction – shag around and lump for the person who offers most, or who sticks it out the longest.

    Apparently, “The economics literature suggests that if bidders are risk-averse, the Dutch auction is more likely to yield higher revenue (in the limiting case, grab quickly any positive consumer surplus, before it goes away). Alternatively, if the seller thinks that bidders would be more enthusiastic if they saw each other’s ongoing bids, this tends to encourage an English auction. In other words, hidden but not too hidden qualities encourage English auctions.”

    Given the dry and barren land that Australia is for a 30 years+ woman looking for a decent, educated man (they’re all in London, I hear), which auction would provide the better outcome? I suspect economics can answer that, but can it define which strategy would be more fun?

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