Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating is about conquering the dating market—from an economist’s point of view.
Match.com and the men listed ‘separated’
By the time I joined Match.com, I was divorced in every way except the legal one. So, when I posted a profile on Match.com, I listed myself as ‘separated,’ and I wrote a simple, honest and incredibly naive description of myself in which I explained that I was recently separated and looking for a new relationship.
What I didn’t think about is that most men who are recently separated fall into one of the following three categories:
Type 1: Enthusiastic returnees to the world of dating looking to have fun with, and be incredibly nice to, interesting women they’ve never met before.
Type 2: Men who might go back to their wives (or, worse yet, haven’t even left them).
Type 3: Devastated wrecks who are angry and bitter about their failed marriage.
I wanted to be a type 1, and let’s assume for the moment I was. Women looking for dates on match.com believe the probability of a separated man being type-2 or 3 is quite high.
Victim of statistical discrimination
The response to my initial profile was not overwhelming–even by middle-aged, balding economist standards. The vast majority of the e-mails I sent to women were ignored.
One woman wrote back and said that, while she appreciated my honesty she did not date recently separated men because she had found that they were not ready for a new relationship.
Another woman wrote back and said that she was conflicted because, while my profile tended to indicate that I was exactly the type of person she would tipically want to meet, she would not date separated men. In what was, by my standards, a remarkably flirtatious and successful string of follow-up e-mails, I convinced this woman to meet me for coffee so that I could show her that her preconceptions of separated men did not apply. But on the morning of the arranged date, she sent me a text that read, ‘Ultimately, I just am not comfortable dating a separated man. Thanks for your honesty. Good Luck.’
While most people would say these women acted on a sterotype based on my separated status, the economics terminology would say I was victim of statistical discrimination.
Statistical discrimination vs taste-based discrimination
Women who will not date separated men are not discriminating against separated men in the sense that they like them less or think separated men are bad. But they discriminate against separated men because of the association between being separated and being a type 2 or type 3.
This feature of statistical discrimination–the fact that people act in a manner that hurts members of a certain group though they have no negative feelings toward that group–is what distinguishes it from taste-based discrimination.
What made women’s reaction to my online status statistical discrimination is that the women used ‘separated’ as a way to screen people who were likely to have qualities they dislike. I wan’t a victim of discrimination–I was a victim of a lack of information.