Who You Meet Matters More Than What You Want: The Economics of Love

September 11, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

“Wherever you are in your love life, you cannot control the result—but you can definitely set the odds in your favor.” – Rebekka Grun, PhD

A lot of people struggle when it comes to finding long-term relationship happiness. So what can we do about this? As economist Rebekka Grun argues in the TEDx talk below, the solution may lie in adapting basic principles of economics to our pursuit of love.

For example, many people have a “shopping list” of traits and characteristics they want in a partner, which leads them to spend all of their time looking for someone who checks all of those boxes. Grun believes this is a flawed approach. In her words, “who you meet matters more than what you want.”

She cites speed dating research as evidence. What we see in the world of speed dating is that the things people say they want in a partner aren’t very strong predictors of who they actually go for (for an in-depth look at some of the supporting research, check out this article). The choices people make ultimately depend more on what they can get than their actual preferences.

Put simply: opportunity > preference. In other words, we need to adapt our dating preferences to our dating circumstances and what is available to us. When you approach dating with this mindset, “anyone can be the one,” as Grun argues.

Grun also talks about the ways in with sex/gender ratios affect our romantic pursuits. For example, when heterosexual people date in environments with lopsided sex/gender ratios, the gender in the minority winds up with more bargaining power.

To learn more about love from an economic perspective, check out the full video below.

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Image Source: 123RF/Sirichai Puangsuwan

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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