The economics of relationships

From divorce rates to the 'man shortage', there's little about love that can't be explained by market values, according to one economist. She explains her theories to Gillian Orr

Four years ago, Marina Adshade, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, struck upon an ingenious idea to get her students more excited about learning economics: she would use familiar subjects such as sex and love to teach them.

In fact, Adshade argues that almost every option, every decision and every outcome in matters of sex and love is better understood by thinking within an economic framework; the supply and demand of our intimate needs, if you will. Adshade proves, through a number of global studies, that our decisions in matters of sexual relationships are made with a firm grasp of economics, whether we realise it or not. Now she has compiled all the research into a new book, Dirty Money: The Economics of Sex and Love.

Adshade acknowledges that the economic theories are not intended to describe the behaviour of everybody in society but, statistically, the behaviour of people on average. And none of the evidence in the book comes from public opinion polls; everything is based on choices individuals actually make, not the choices they say they would make when given options.

"When I look at the evidence data that we collect, often what I find is that a lot of our preconceptions about the decisions people make in terms of sex and love are not wholly accurate," says Adshade. "People often behave in ways that we don't anticipate."

Dirty Money has no interest in discussing right or wrong behaviour; Adshade focuses solely on how people actually behave as opposed to how they should behave.

Hard times mean less teenage sex

We tend to have the perception that teenagers are more sexually active than they were in the past but, according to research, that's really not true. In fact, teen promiscuity rates have fallen and there is an economic story behind it. "Back in the 1980s, if you finished secondary school and you didn't go on to university you still could earn a pretty good living wage," says Adshade.

"Secondary-school leavers earned enough to support a family and have a home and so on. Over time that's really changed and it's become much, much harder for people who don't go on to further education to support themselves and to own their own home, for example."

Teenagers actually recognise this, and understand that there is a big cost to not continuing with their education, so when they're in high school they protect themselves from anything that might prevent them from doing so. There's a much bigger cost to teen pregnancy in 2013 than there was to teen pregnancy 20 or 30 years ago. Teens are responding to economic incentive and the very real change in the way that people earn their income, especially the reduced wages of people who don't have an education.

The internet and the marriage market

Divorce rates in the UK have been falling for almost 10 years, having peaked around 2003-2004. In fact, they have now fallen to where they were in 1977. One possible explanation is to do with the way that people marry each other and, specifically, how they meet.

Internet dating started around 1995-1997 before picking up steam. Some people started connecting on dedicated online dating sites and, by the new millennium, more and more people met on social networking sites, so much so that in the UK more new couples who meet on the internet form away from online dating sites than on them. Of couples who meet online, the vast majority are meeting on social networking sites, chatrooms, through commenting on blogs and the like.

"Before the internet, when we had a really small market, we couldn't afford to be very picky about who our partners were," Adshade says. "The internet opens up the market for dating and marriage, the pool becomes much bigger, which leads to people searching for longer and searching for somebody who is a little bit more perfect for them." Having a bigger market the theory goes, should lead to better marriages and those marriages are less likely to end in divorce.

Why there's more sex on campus

The number of women going to university has gradually increased so there are now 130 women for every 100 men. "Although you might think that fewer men means that women are having fewer relationships because there's a shortage of men, when we look at the evidence, the shortage of men on college campuses is actually increasing promiscuity," notes Adshade.

Because women are competing for scarce numbers of men, the men are getting to determine what kind of relationships they are having. "In the past if a man wanted a woman to sleep with him he would have to at least take her on a date or something like that," says Adshade. "Now that it's so much more competitive, they don't even need to do that, they just need to send a text message. It's an interesting story because the increase in female education is in part fuelling the hook-up culture."

The greater education levels of women is also affecting the marriage market and changing the way that women look for partners. Historically, educated women, especially with university degrees, almost always looked for partners who are at least as educated as themselves. But given that there's now a shortage of educated men, insists Adshade: "More and more women are opting for less educated men and marrying younger men and they structure their relationships very differently as a result.

"In those households, the women are often the higher income earners, meaning that men have to contribute a lot more to the household in terms of childcare and housework and so on so it has a really interesting effect."

Older women and the 'man shortage'

Because women live longer than men we tend to have a perception that women are disadvantaged in the dating market later in life. Not only because men die sooner but because they also have a tendency to search for younger women.

"We hear a lot of stories saying that if you're 60, for every single man there are about eight single women or if a man's wife dies, then women are lined up down the street with casseroles, but that's simply not the case," observes Adshade. "If you look at the data, none of this is borne out in the way people behave."

Early in life we assume that women are looking for a longer-term commitment and men are looking for short-term relationships, but later in life, women are actually looking for short-term relationships and it's the men who are looking for the longer-term commitment because they're hoping to find somebody who will take care of them when they reach old age.

"This really changes the dynamic in the market so it means that, for example, when older people search online, the women are actually very, very picky," notes Adshade. "In fact they're more picky than younger women; they're not sacrificing so that they can be in a relationship. They only want to be in one if they know that the person they're with is financially stable and healthy because they don't want to be left taking care of them.

"Whereas men actually become much less picky as they get older. We may have this perception that they're looking for women who are younger than themselves, but a lot of older men end up with women who are older than them."

'Dirty Money' by Marina Adshade is published by OneWorld at £8.99

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

    £65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

    C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

    £1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

    C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

    JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

    £1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home