Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Bachelorette explained. In praise of online dating

How do you explain The Bachelorette?

I'm not talking about the bachelorette herself, Sophie Monk: she's a topic for another day.

I am talking about the behaviour of the men who were locked in the house with her – her suitors.

Each declared she was the love of their life, presumably because they were locked in a house with her, or perhaps because they were on television.

What other reasonable explanation could there be? Choosing a long-term partner is one of the most serious decisions anyone makes. The odds of each of the housemates picking the same woman in the same house, when there are billions of other people to choose from, and billions of other locations, are infinitesimal.

But their behaviour checks out. Sheena Iyengar met her future husband at a bus stop, and she has been studying the economics of choice ever since.

A professor at the Columbia Business School, she invites her students to heterosexual speed dating sessions, which she uses as mini laboratories. Here's one of her most important findings: men (not women) become increasingly less choosy toward the end of each session. Women set standards and maintain them. They mark their last date as harshly as the first. Men begin with standards and discard them if it looks like they'll go home alone.

To some extent they are looking for different things. She asked each to answer "yes" or "no" to seeing the other again, and to rate them for attractiveness, sincerity, intelligence, fun, ambition, and shared interests./p>

It may not come as a surprise that men highly value physical attractiveness. A woman's physical attractiveness was 18 per cent more important in getting a man to say yes than was a man's attractiveness in getting a woman to yes. Women valued intelligence roughly twice as much as men did, and men did it an odd way. The more intelligent the woman was, the more likely the man was to say yes, right up to the point when he thought she was as intelligent as he was. Beyond that extra intelligence didn't help at all.

It was even worse for ambition. Women valued it. Men valued it up until the point they thought the woman was as ambitious as them. Beyond that, it counted against the women. It made men more likely to say no.

An endearing characteristic of men was that they didn't much care about race. For women it mattered a lot. They were 14 percentage points more likely to say yes to someone of their own race than someone of a different race, which, given that they said yes 38 per cent of the time, made race enough to turn an ordinary no into a definite no or into a moderately strong yes.

But that's changing. Online dating is replacing bumping into people at bus stops and hooking up with friends of friends or speed dating. Almost instantly the universe of potential dates has become massive.

Cornell University economist Josue Ortega and and psychologist Philipp Hergovich have just published a  paper about what ought to happen to society when the universe of potential dates is no longer limited. They say it ought to become racially integrated, really quickly.

Online dating only really began in the mid-1990s, and only really took off in the 2000s. As it happens, at both times there was an upsurge in interracial marriage.

It might be coincidence, but if it's not their model suggests that race itself will break down in the United States, and everywhere else that gives itself over to online dating.

And the marriages will be stronger, another finding that comes from choices no longer being limited.

It's the exact opposite of The Bachelorette. And it's arriving fast.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald