Freakonomics Radio Gets Results

It's nice to have a podcast that is popular, but it's another thing to have a podcast that actually changes the world. Can you guess which of our recent episodes changed the world? Maybe the one about pedestrians getting run over? Or the one about blood avocados? Nope. Here's an e-mail from Mandi Grzelak, a listener in Cincinnati:

True story: while listening to your Feb. 6 podcast "What You Don't Know About Online Dating," I thought to myself, "I should try online dating!" After all, if NPR employees are on sites like OKCupid, I might have a shot with one! How amazing would that be?!

Long story short: I signed up that afternoon, started with some e-mails and went on my first date (from the site, not ever) on Feb. 10. Tim and I have been inseparable ever since, bring each other endless amounts of happiness, and last night he proposed. I, obviously, said yes. We plan to elope in NYC this August, to avoid a large dramatic wedding. But you and your families are welcome to join us.

Old-Fashioned Matchmaking as an Antidote to Modern Dating Dilemmas

We recently put out four Freakonomics Radio episodes that developed an arc of a theme: "Reasons to Not Be Ugly," "What You Don't Know About Online Dating," "Why Marry? (Part 1)" and "Why Marry? (Part 2)." These episodes prompted a lot of interesting listener/reader replies. Here is a particularly interesting one, from a woman we'll call R.:

I recently listened to your podcast on online dating and found it fascinating -- not so much because of the economics of dating, but more how it contrasted and compared with the economics of the dating world I live in: the Orthodox Jewish semi-arranged marriages.

I grew up in upstate New York, in a village that is almost only Haredi Orthodox. The world I live in is sort of like Jane Austen, very marriage-oriented. Every girl (and boy for that matter) wants to get married, and does so in her early twenties. The systems at play to get everyone married off must fascinate an outsider. Out of my class of about sixty, about 95% got married within the first five years out of school. So far, only one girl is divorced. It's hard to quantify happiness in all these marriages but from what my friends tend to tell me, most seem very happy in their relationships. I know that the Orthodox Union has done research into the area. They collected a lot of data by surveying thousands of Orthodox couples, including Haredim, with in-depth online questionnaires. While I have not examined their data (and what a treasure trove that must be to an economist!) I think that this success in matching quickly, efficiently, and happily is due to changing the incentives you talk about in your podcast. The entire process seems to have been designed to reduce outer beauty from being the main incentive in a marriage market.

Does Online Dating Save You Money?

Our recent podcast, "What You Don't Know About Online Dating," offered an economist’s guide to dating online. Here's one more perk: a report by CovergEx Group estimates that online dating is more cost-efficient than traditional dating. From Business Insider

The ConvergEx folks, using data from statisticbrain.com, note the average courtship time for “off-line,” traditional dating ahead of a marriage runs around 42 months – or two years longer than the 18.5-month, average dating-to-marriage cycle for people who meet online.

And using that data, they came up with a formula.

Online Dating in Thin Markets

A recent podcast, "What You Don't Know About Online Dating," discussed how online dating has changed the process of finding a mate in traditionally "thin" markets.  Writing for FP, Bethany Allen explores the role of dating sites catering to young Chinese Muslims:

The men's photos show them clean-shaven, wearing T-shirts or sweaters, while the women are mostly without headscarves, some showing off their bare shoulders. In other words, they appear heavily Sinicized. That's because the site caters to Hui Muslims, many of whom are virtually indistinguishable in speech and dress from millions of ordinary young men and women in urban China.

That doesn't mean they aren't different: Many Hui still seek to marry within their ranks, despite the fact that they are widely dispersed across China, numbering only 10 million out of a population of 1.3 billion. But the Internet is coming to the rescue, as online Hui dating sites have arisen over the past few years to help some of China's urban Muslims find their matches. "The Internet links major Hui communities in every city," said Haiyun Ma, a professor at Frostburg State University in Maryland specializing in Muslims in China and a Hui Chinese himself. As a result, "it is easier for young Hui to find spouses" than it used to be.

Better Matching in Online Dating

Researchers led by Kang Zhao at the University of Iowa have devised a new matching algorithm for online dating sites. Business Insider summarizes the model's advantages:

In the online dating context, an algorithm can get a good idea of my taste in partners by doing a similar comparison of me to other male users. Another male user of the site will have a similar taste in women to me if we are messaging the same women.

However, while this gives the algorithm a good idea of who I like, it leaves out the important factor of who likes me — my attractiveness to the female users of the site, measured by who is sending me messages.

Couples Who Meet Online Have Better Marriages

A new study by the University of Chicago's John Cacioppo finds that couples who met online went on to have more fulfilling marriages than those who met offline. They also divorced at a lower percentage:

“These data suggest that the Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself,” said the study’s lead author, John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

The results were published in the paper, "Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues,” in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meeting online has become an increasingly common way to find a partner, with opportunities arising through social networks, exchanges of email, instant messages, multi-player games and virtual worlds, in which people "live" on the site through avatars. The research shows that couples who met online were more likely to have higher marital satisfaction and lower rates of marital breakups than relationships that began in face-to-face meetings.

A Chance to Date One of The Most Eligible Bachelorettes in Chicago

We’ve had this blog for seven years.  This is the first time I have ever tried to use it play cupid.

Here’s the deal.  I have a close friend here in Chicago.  She is in her late twenties.  She is really smart. She has an extremely successful career.  She is incredibly pretty.

Here is a true story.  The first time my wife Jeannette met this friend, she was so shocked by my friend’s beauty that her jaw went slack, and she temporarily lost the ability to speak.  My wife later described her as the most beautiful woman she had ever seen in person.

Why, if she is so great, is she still single?  I don’t have a good explanation.  Partly, she works really hard so she doesn’t have that much opportunity to meet people.  Also, I suspect a lot of potential suitors are intimidated by her – I know I would have been.  She’s got a Ph.D. from a top university, she’s on top of the world professionally, she’s pretty. A man would need to be very self-confident to ask her out.

Bad Names for Online Dating

New research by Jochen E. Gebauer and two co-authors, summarized in the BPS Research Digest, analyzed data from a German dating website and found that an unpopular name will lessen your chances of getting a date in the online dating universe:

The main finding here was that people with unfashionable names like Kevin or Chantal were dramatically more likely to be rejected by other users (i.e. other users tended to choose not to contact them). A user with the most popular name (Alexander) received on average double the number of contacts as someone with the least popular name (Kevin) ... However, the researchers also found that people with unpopular names were more likely to smoke, had lower self-esteem and were less educated. What's more, the link between the popularity of their name and these life outcomes was mediated by the amount of rejection they suffered on the dating site - as if rejection on the site were a proxy for the amount of social neglect they'd suffered in life.

Apparently, Kevin really is more than a name.

Economics Run Amok: What's Your Price?

Freakonomics is no stranger to studying prostitution, as discussed in Superfreakonomics.  We are slightly less familiar, however, with a gray area of prostitution -- "dating websites" that connect rich customers with attractive poor customers.  Though these are by no means a new phenomena, a website has recently come to our attention that uses a dating website platform to ask what we all wonder about in one context or another: what's your price? Whatsyourprice.com auctions off dates and claims to be inspired by the charity dating model.  It is divided into two halves: "Date Generous People" and "Date Attractive People" -- apparently you’re either looking for one or the other.  Upon a cursory read, the generous users seem to be overwhelmingly male, and the attractive users overwhelmingly female (and pictured in bathing suits).   Each profile includes an “About Me” section and a “First Date Expectations” section. Several “attractive” members, it should be noted, specify that they will not fly Economy Class.

A Rose is a Rose is a Preference Signal

A rose by any other name is just as sweet, isn’t it? Even virtual roses used in Korean online dating experiments. In a new working paper by main author Soohyung Lee of the University of Maryland, economists studied the impact on preference signaling - signals sent to a select few.

In the study, a major online dating company in Korea organized dating events with 613 participants, half men and half women. Everyone was given two free “virtual roses” that they could attach to an e-mail to a fellow participant, and a few were given 8 virtual roses. Although these roses cost nothing, attaching a rose to an e-mail drastically increased rates of acceptance, even among different “desirability” groups.