While I have been happily married for many years, several of my friends have not. Almost all of my newly single friends have used on-line dating sites to help find a prospective mate. My wife and I often hear about their experiences and have had to learn the meanings of many new terms. Just a few weeks ago, a very good friend of ours who had just entered the on-line dating world reported that she had been “catfished”. Evidently, a catfish is someone who fakes online profiles and pretends to be someone they're not.
So many bad stories about on-line dating exist that economists have been asked to make suggestions as to how to improve the experience. After all, many of these same economists have created matching algorithms for such diverse activities as organ transplantation and school placement.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, economists think dating sites should be “thick” meaning that many people should use them. That, evidently, is not too difficult to achieve as many people are looking for a mate. A downside to a “thick” site is that “congestion” or bottlenecks develop. Most dating sites allow users to match as often as they desire.
This leads to situations in which men match (and it is more often men exhibiting this behavior) to every woman they can. A female friend of mine had more than 200 hundred matches within a few minutes of posting a profile. Sorting out what was real interest and what was not, was not easy.
Economists suggest the way around mindless matching is the use “signalling”. Signalling means that there is a cost to the match. For an on-line dating service this means limiting the number of “likes” or “matches” that one can make. In one experiment, a Korean dating service limited the number of roses- a symbol of intent, each person could send.
They found that people were far more likely to response to someone who had sent a rose. An unfortunate aspect of on-line dating is that in almost all cities, there are more college educated women than men. To economists, this suggests that women avoid “romantic unemployment” which sadly means that women may have to settle for something a little less than they had hoped. While I am happy I do not have use these on-line dating sites, my friend who had been “catfished” is overall, quite happy. She lives in a tiny town but through an on-line service met a real person who lives 45 minutes away with whom she has had wonderful in-person dates.