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Andrew Leigh adds economics to dating and gets a love match


Gareth Hutchens

Of all the people to take your romance advice from, you wouldn't expect it to be the shadow Assistant Treasurer. But Andrew Leigh's ideas might just add up.

Good economics: Internet dating services or speed dating events reduce the time spent searching for a partner.

Good economics: Internet dating services or speed dating events reduce the time spent searching for a partner.

How often do you think about love? What about the dating scene?

You must choose a time to stop looking (for someone) in order to get the best outcome (a match you’re happy with). 

Dr Andrew Leigh, economist

One of our federal politicians has been ruminating on both lately and he’s come up with rules to help you find one in the other.

Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh, who is an economist, has published a new book called The Economics of Just About Everything.

Dr Leigh reckons the economics of dating follow three simple rules:

1. There is no perfect match for you, but some matches are definitely better than others.

2. You won’t know how well suited you are to someone until you get to know them.

3. Time is scarce, so a decision based on limited information is probably better than no decision at all.

According to Leigh, the problem with the dating scene is that you don’t have enough information about the people in it, and you don’t have enough time to find out all the information you need to make a good decision.

That leaves you in a pickle, which economists call an “optimal-stopping problem”.

The idea is simple: you must choose a time to stop looking (for someone) in order to get the best outcome (a match you’re happy with).

As Leigh shows, the problem exists everywhere: “If you’re trying to sell your house, at what point should you accept an offer that’s lower than your asking price? If you’re looking for a job, which job should you settle for?”

So when’s the best time to stop looking for Mr or Mrs Right and settle down with someone in the dating scene?

Well, since you don’t have enough time or enough information, Leigh reckons the best way to help yourself is to use internet dating services or go to speed dating events because they reduce the time spent searching.

They’ll expose you to more people in less time so the chance of meeting someone is higher.

Then, if you’re lucky enough to find someone you like, the economics of relationships come into play.

And Leigh says empirical evidence suggests love matches are on the rise.

Considering heterosexual relationships, one of the reasons love matches seem to be increasing is because the traditional breadwinner/homemaker model is breaking down.

That model was built on people who specialise in different things – homemaking and breadwinning – so they are likelier to be different kinds of people, with different interests.

But these days, with more women working and more men helping around the home, today’s heterosexual couples are more likely to be looking for someone who can do similar things to them.

So as Leigh puts it, “More than ever before, young people have the freedom to look for a soul mate.”

So if you use internet dating sites, coupled with the modern freedom to look for someone with similar skills and interests, your chances of finding someone special will be higher.

With that, he leaves us with a little bit of advice:

“There’s only one way to use these economic insights into romance, and that’s tactfully. You may be solving an optimal-stopping problem, but divulging this insight on your first date may mean that it’s also your last.”


  • Men "helping" around the home - as in, kindly agreeing to take on some housework as a favour to the woman whose job it rightfully is. Please. How about "more men are performing their share of domestic duties"?

    The change that's happened here even in my lifetime has been huge, and very welcome. It's no longer rare to see dads cooking dinner, or washing clothes & vacuuming etc. Most are also much more involved in caring for their children than when I was growing up.

    Come off it
    Date and time
    August 03, 2014, 6:27AM
    • Men are "helping around the home"?

      We clearly have a long way to go to get to equality if that's what you think men are doing. Do they "babysit" their own children as well?

      Date and time
      August 03, 2014, 8:04AM
      • Sorry but you've missed out one very important point.

        Never get mixed up with a cheater.

        And if you know the right questions to ask, they're not hard to spot....

        Date and time
        August 03, 2014, 8:11AM
        • Thank you, GH.
          This is entirely as it should be; economists are the best people to give advise on love and marriage; when it comes to economic advice and predictions - they are stuffing awful.
          We need to rediscover the untapped repositories of wisdom in our community.
          When it comes to financial know-how, who better than marriage counsellors?
          If you are wondering about matters psychological - turn to an orthopaedic surgeon; they know when someone's physical symptoms are "in their head".
          We have been recently reminded that psychiatrists have an excellent nose for detecting those religious fanatics - better than sniffer dogs at 'The Big Day Out'.
          As good as any cephalopod (OK, Paul the oracle aside), my dentist is a whizz at predicting soccer winners (actually, I go there for the 'laughing gas'; "Three fillings and an extraction, no worries" - as I hover around the ceiling).
          My hairdresser is the go-to man when it comes to British motorbikes from the 1950 and 60s (for the uninitiated, that's BSA, Triumph, Norton and the mighty Vincent 'Black Knight').
          The gaunt Vegan at the local Deli knows everything there is to know - about dogs and their origins; so, you want to hear if Dachshunds and Great Danes are related - drop in and have a chat to her.
          So, yes, we should celebrate our economists - but not necessarily as they might expect.

          Howe Synnott
          Date and time
          August 03, 2014, 8:44AM
          • "Specialise" in homemaking? I don't specialise in homemaking, I am a homemaker by default because my husband earned more money and someone had to stay home. So even though we may have different interests, it's not because of that. The reason the old model is breaking down is because wives want more out of life than cleaning toilets and men don't want to help clean toilets because they already have a life and they just want someone to clean their toilets for them. That's when the problems start.

            Date and time
            August 03, 2014, 8:54AM
            • I have a cleaner clean my toilets. They're a lot less hassle than a spouse and they don't snore, or leave their stuff all over the place.

              Date and time
              August 03, 2014, 10:45AM
          • Abbott and the Economy are about to go through a messy divorce.

            Date and time
            August 03, 2014, 8:57AM
            • No discussion of the "paradox of choice"? The downside to internet dating and/or speed dating is that there are too many options - like a shopper confronted with 50 flavours of jam, we just can't decide. And we're less likely to be happy with our decision (maybe one of those other "flavours" would have been better). Whereas, it seemed that my grandparents' generation were happy to find someone half decent, and to make it work...

              Date and time
              August 03, 2014, 9:48AM
              • It all sounds pretty desperate, erratic and seems to be composed by a notorious nerd.
                The notion of constant wanting and "better options around the corner" leaves today's population deprived of real life experience and actual love (note: the "true" love does exist only in novels).

                Life is to be lived - not led by ill chosen topics presented by media.

                Happy Sunday all

                The keen reader
                Date and time
                August 03, 2014, 9:53AM
                • Time is scarce, so a decision based on limited information is probably better than no decision at all....this is one of the premises behind an arranged marriage.

                  Date and time
                  August 03, 2014, 12:22PM
                  Comments are now closed
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