Economics of Online Dating

Jasbina Ahluwalia asks Paul Oyer, author of Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating: Interesting. In terms of the distinction you make, I love it.

If one’s self-perception is one thing, it can be difficult to cross that out. Along those lines of economic mindset, I’m wondering how else it helps give you an edge.

In your experiences, how do you feel that your economic mindset and the principles of economics helped you navigate the whole online dating market?


Paul Oyer

I think there are a few simple principles that economics would provide for you. They’re not earth-shattering, but they’re certainly helpful.

Economics of Online Dating: Thick Market

One of them is to think about where you can find a big market for the type of person you’re looking for. It’s what an economist would call, “looking for a thick market.”

What you want to do is think about whether you would rather be on or on some little local dating site, because the choices are going to be much greater.

Find sites like Cupid or other large dating sites where the choices are going to be much greater.

Economics of Online Dating: Niche Markets

Having said that, you’re focusing on a market that is a little more directed at a certain type of consumer.

There are all these niche dating sites that fail the basic idea of having the thickest market possible.

I think a lot of those smaller sites are doomed to fail. They take so many potential mates out of the market that I think they’re going to be very problematic and most people won’t do it.

How do you describe your market? Is it Southeast Asian?


Jasbina Ahluwalia

Yes, let me clarify. Our talents in terms of our matchmaking is South Asians, predominately Indian-American.

I will say that our listeners span all US cities, and we speak to all of those cities.


Paul Oyer

Economics of Online Dating: Niche Yet Thick

I’ll just use the South Asians as an example. Suppose you were only interested in dating South Asians.

That’s actually a market where you can imagine a site that’s focused on just that niche in the market surviving. You see a few of these niche sites survive because the critical mass is thick enough in that market alone for it to work.

If a lot of the people who are in that market believe someone else being from that same market is a deal-breaker, then these sites can survive.

Economics of Online Dating: Market Example

A really good example is It’s a very successful site oriented towards the Christian world.

The reason that it takes away from my point before about wanting the biggest market possible, and the reason they’re able to get away with it, is that they are a very big market and that’s a deal-breaker for many people.

Economics of Online Dating: Biggest Market

The basic principle is to go to the biggest market as possible.

If you want to limit what you’re looking for, try to do it in ways where there’s a still a very big pool of those types of people.

Limiting yourself to Christians and South Asians is okay.

Economics of Online Dating: Limitations

Limiting yourself to gluten-free people, well that’s something you might want to reassess as to whether or not that makes a lot of sense.


Jasbina Ahluwalia

I think you make a great point and that’s very consistent with what you’ve said before in terms of deal-breakers with religion.

Look for the largest school of Christians you can anywhere.


Paul Oyer

There is another piece of advice that might not seem like it’s economics, but to me it is. It is very helpful to me and many others.

A lot of people look at their online dating profile and try to see themselves in an honest light.

Economics of Online Dating: Profile Assumptions

What you need to ask yourself is what you’re not seeing on the online dating site, but what people are assuming about your profile when they look at it that you haven’t said.

I’ve looked at people’s profiles who want to indicate that they’re very fun-loving, but if you do that in a certain way, people will assume that you’re not serious at the same time.

Anyone who wants a serious relationship will be pushed away.

You have to balance the fun versus serious carefully because people will do what we call, “statistically discriminate.” They’ll assume certain attributes about you if you don’t specifically address them if you have certain other attributes.

Economics of Online Dating: Profile Example

Another good example of this is my own example. I was separated rather than divorced when I started online dating.

People make assumptions about you. They make assumptions that you’re not really over your marriage yet or that you might go back to your ex-wife.

That made me less popular than I would’ve been as a result. It’s these assumptions that people make about you based on your profile that you really want to address ahead of time.


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The above is an excerpt from Jasbina’s interview with Paul Oyer

The entire interview transcript is at: Dr. Paul Oyer Interview – Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating

Listen to the entire interview on: Intersections Match Talk Radio – Jasbina’s Lifestyle Show

Listen to the entire interview on Blog Talk Radio: Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating

Listen to the entire interview on iTunes