In a simulation in which he doled out five dollars to every audience member, Ariely demonstrated that a small gender inequality leads to an enormous balance of power. One gender would be competing, in this case paying, for a partner of the opposite sex, and thus expending all of their resources supply and demand-style.

By Olivia Zhu

With Valentine’s Day approaching—ripe with the promise of love for some and fraught with the bitter reminder of love unfulfilled for others—Duke professor Dan Ariely shared what he’s learned about the “love market” by analyzing romance from a behavioral economic perspective.

Starting with the premise of assortative mating—the principle that “hot” people date “hot” people, and “not hot” people date others who are “not hot”—Ariely asked how the “not hot” psychologically cope with their “unattractive” partners. His answer: “not hot” people “reframe what is important to them” and focus on non-physical qualities, like humor.

Using regression-based labor analysis, Ariely discovered that the most attractive quality in men was height. In fact, for a 5’ 9” man to be equally attractive to a 5’ 10” man, he would have to make $40,000 more in salary per year. Not to fear—men were equally shallow. The most attractive quality in a woman was BMI, with the optimal being 18.5 (slightly underweight). No amount of money could make up for a woman’s BMI; men didn’t care about a woman’s salary or her graduate degree.

Ariely also discussed the pitfalls of online dating. Online dating often ends in repeated disappointment, he said, not only because of embellished profiles, but because your imagination fills in the gaps of a potential date’s personality with ideal, untrue qualities. Moreover, online dating is inefficient, with an exchange rate of six hours of talking for one coffee date.

To improve your online dating experience, Ariely suggested “going and doing stuff together,” even if in an online environment, and asking provoking questions about past relationships and sexual fantasies rather than sticking with mundane, interview-style dates. He also found that too many online “options” decreased one’s happiness by making one pickier. Perhaps we shouldn’t have so much freedom in our love lives, after all.