The Potential Social and Economic Causes and Consequences of Modern Dating

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Economics is defined by Thomas Sowell, an American Economist and best selling author, as the allocation of scarce resources with multiple uses within a given system. With this definition in mind, I thought it pertinent to look at the modern dating market as there have been significant shifts in a relatively short period of time that are likely to have powerful and lasting consequences.

There are a great number of contributory reasons why these changes have occurred (which will be listed as we go through) but this article will focus on what I believe are the most significant five. These include; dating apps, pornography, hypergamous dating preferences among women, less-educated men on average, and the introduction of birth control in the 20th century.

The creation of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and many others are completely transforming the way men and women are dating one another and conducting themselves. These apps create an environment wherein a small proportion of men are able to get dates or ‘hook-up’ with a significant proportion of women using them. For example, on average a male Tinder user will swipe right (which means they’re interested in the person they’re looking at a photo of) 46% of the time. Whilst the average female Tinder user will only swipe right 14% of the time. Although, there is data to suggest it can be as low as 4% for women and as high as 60% for men.

This basically means that a large proportion of women (i.e. up to the majority on these dating apps) are competing for a smaller proportion of what could be called ‘hyper-successful men’. This obviously then creates the inverse with the remainder of users on these apps, i.e. the majority of male users competing for what appears to be a shrinking percentage of female users.

Data that reflects the consequences of this reality can be found in a variety of sources. For example, in the UK the percentage of women identifying as single as of 2017 was 31.1% compared to 37.8% of men. Although women on average live longer than men, the 6.7% gap is significant enough to justify more than a single contributory factor.

The rate of sexlessness among 18–24-year old’s is also increasing. 31% of men in the United States in 2018 in that age bracket reported no sexual activity compared to 19% in 2002 in the past year. It increased for women also, but not by as significant of a percentage (15% to 19%). Of course, the UK, US, and Australia are different countries but given they’re similar in terms of economic, social, and cultural makeup fundamentally, I’ve used data from each one interchangeably to substantiate my claims.

Something worth noting at this point in the article is that an environment that not only allows but also facilitates hook-up culture is one that enables those more inclined toward Dark Triad traits (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy) to be more successful in attracting potential mates in the short-term. Traditional dating methods would have been better at vetting these types of individuals out of the dating pool whereas now they’re more likely to be users.

This brings us to identifying the likely causes of these growing disparities. I believe the Apps identified above simply metastasize dating preferences primarily among the traditional gate keepers of sex, women. It’s perfectly natural for hypergamy to occur as women select the ‘best’ mate to rear offspring with given its incredibly costly nature and its benefits for the species overall. Animals across the globe possess similar mating strategies as males compete with other males for access to females. Naturally, many of these bouts are physical in nature, although certainly not all, and therefore only the strongest and healthiest males are able to achieve dominance atop a hierarchy. These methods ensure the next generation of that species is equipped with the best genetics to ensure the continuation of the species.

Naturally, humans aren’t different in terms of being highly sexually selective. The main differences lie in the hierarchies present in our societies, which have less to do with physical size and prowess and far more to do with wealth, status, and attractiveness. Take this study for example, which found that men who have access to valuable resources are highly desirable as romantic partners, especially to women. It also found that the overwhelming majority of participants preferred a partner who earned their money rather than inherited it. What this implies is that wealth, status, and power are indicative of a man’s competency and therefore his ability to provide for offspring and as a partner. Men, on the other hand, considered personal wealth to a far smaller extent, indicating a different set of priorities when looking for a partner.

With the hypergamous nature of the current dating scene defined above another shift in our society becomes concerning when taking note of it. This fact is that women now make up the majority of university graduates overall and in certain age brackets, are outearning their male counterparts. Obviously, it’s fantastic that many of the barriers that had previously prevented women from accessing tertiary education and certain job markets have been removed, but it is still a relatively new shift with potential consequences I’m seeking to ascertain. One of which (which I believe is already occurring) is an expanding group of successful and highly educated women competing for a shrinking group of highly successful men as women partner across and above competency hierarchies and men partner across and below.

Naturally, as women increase their competency in terms of earnings, education, and overall skill and potentially ‘overeducate’ themselves out of the dating market. This might result in a greater number of women identifying as single and/or childless later in life as they’re competing for a very small group of men.

Interestingly, the available data in certain areas does reflect this reality. In the UK, as of 2022, for the first time since records began in 1920, there are more women below the age of 30 without children than with children. Also in the UK, the percentage of women not living in a couple who have never been married is increasing in every age bracket below 70 and the average age of marriage is at its highest ever for both women and men, 31.5 and 33.4 years respectively.

In Australia, similar trends appear. In 1911, the average number of people per household was 4.5, but as of 2016 it had dropped to 2.6. The median age for marriage is now 30.6 for men and 29.2 for women. The rate of unmarried Australians 15 years and over has increased considerably to 35% as of 2016 (with the majority of them being women), its highest point in the 20th and 21st centuries. And 25% of Australian households are a lone-person household as of 2015 with the majority being women. Its also relevant to note, that the survey the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) conducted found that women with higher education levels and incomes were more likely to live alone. And, interestingly, that men who were more likely to live alone had relatively low levels of education and incomes.

Of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation and there are without a doubt other contributory factors but the changes in the percentages I’ve listed above have occurred for particular reasons, some of which I believe I’ve covered. The move to a more egalitarian society (i.e. one in which men and women are equal) is something that’s contributed to making Western societies the safest, wealthiest, and most prosperous in human history. I’m in no way attempting to disparage these advances, I’m simply seeking to ascertain the shifts, why they’ve occurred and what potential consequences there might be.   

At this point in the article with everything I’ve listed above fresh in our minds, it’s worth discussing a hyper stimuli with powerful effects I’m sure everyone’s familiar with to some extent, pornography. The majority of users of pornography are men with a smaller proportion of users being women. One Australian 2017 study found that 80% of young men viewed it on a weekly basis and almost two-thirds of young women. But, is pornography really that harmful? One US 2016 study found that the likelihood of divorce in married couples doubled when one or both partners began viewing pornography on a regular basis. Pornography usage is also linked to Erectile Dysfunction in men and other emotional and physical problems depending on how regularly its viewed.

No one needs to be an expert to deduce that pornography is likely to exacerbate the issues I’ve discussed above. Men who are finding it difficult to get a partner may seek an unnatural sexual and emotional connection in pornography. Which just makes them that much more unattractive to females looking for a potential partner.

The final and most significant catalyst for change was the development of birth control in the 20th century. Specifically, the fact that sex does not automatically result in the impregnation of the woman. For most of human history, this has not been the case. The fact that all developed countries across the globe have seen a massive relative decrease in the number of children per family as well as increases in the average age of both mothers and fathers is evidence of this fact. Birth control has arguably been the single biggest catalyst for changing human civilization in the 20th century, and that’s saying something.

Economically and monetarily speaking these changes in the dating market are phenomenal. The fact that women now have the option of engaging in sex that’s free of the risk of having children means they’re able to engage in sexual habits similar to men. It also means they’re able to pursue opportunities in academia and the job market, which we’ve discussed above, as child-rearing is something that can be prevented altogether or put on hold temporarily. These changes, from the perspective of the increasing financial flow, are remarkably positive. 50% of the population was being underutilised for a significant amount of time, this has now changed.

Another probable consequence of the contemporary dating scene definitely worth discussing is the increase in Antidepressant use. To clarify, the links I’m trying to create are primarily speculation on my part and substantiated by only a few studies. I’m simply connecting dots I do believe are at the very least somewhat linked. Antidepressant use amongst both men and women has gone up substantially. But the increases are not parallel at all. A CDC 2018 study found that women over the age of 18 were more than twice as likely (8.7% for men and 18.6% for women) to have taken antidepressants in the past 30 days. With the most prolific users being the most well educated amongst both sexes. We can then take this information and combine it with the fact that women and men who have only ever slept with their partner were far more likely to report marital happiness and, therefore, men and women with more sexual partners prior to marriage were increasingly likely to report lower marital happiness.

I hope the picture I’ve attempted to paint of the situation is relatively high quality at this point. But, in case it isn’t, what I’m predicting fundamentally through my claims, referenced studies and statistics is this; Men and women will continue to become less happy and satisfied over time as we ignore basic biological and psychological realities and rely more heavily on artificial stimulation.

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