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Dating Sites Offer Chance At Love — And A Lesson In Economics

Paul Oyer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, has been teaching economics for almost two decades. His experience with online dating started much more recently. But when he started looking for love online, Oyer discovered that the principles he teaches in the classroom were surprisingly applicable to this new marketplace.

In a new book, Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned From Online Dating, Oyer explains economic concepts in terms of online profiles and dating decisions.

Oyer talks to NPR's Robert Siegel about "thick" markets, gastroenterologists and JDate.

Interview Highlights

On how online dating illustrates economic principles

It [illustrates them] in a nice context because I think a lot of people think about economics and they think about money. And I really like teaching economics through online dating because it's a context where no money changes hands, and yet so many of the ideas we as economists study are playing out.

Paul Oyer teaches economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as a research associate with the National Bureau of Economics. He met his girlfriend online dating.
/ Courtesy of Harvard Business Review Press
Courtesy of Harvard Business Review Press
Paul Oyer teaches economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as a research associate with the National Bureau of Economics. He met his girlfriend online dating.

On "thick" and "thin" markets

A thick market is one with a lot of participants. And so you want your stock markets to be thick because then it'll be easier to trade, there'll be more supply and demand, and we'll have a more efficient market where transactions will be easier and nobody will feel they're getting ripped off. Now in the online dating world and the job market, it's exactly the same. We want a thick market because we want better matches. And I want to go to one that has a lot of alternatives because I want people who are closer to what I'm looking for.

On how the job market for gastroenterologists is like the online dating market

So the gastroenterologist market every year is exactly like the dating market. At the end of a fellowship, a gastroenterologist will go looking for a job. And there are hospitals out there that are looking for gastroenterologists, so it's a job market that is very much like an online dating site in some ways. Now it's a very thin market. There are just a few hundred — I forget the exact number — gastroenterologists who become available every year. In some years, when supply of gastroenterologists is particularly low, the market breaks down. It's just too thin. And somebody has to come in and fix the market from outside, rather than let supply and demand naturally do it by itself.

On his own experience with online dating

Well, I met [my girlfriend] on JDate, and I think my story is actually the exact illustration of why thick markets are so important. My girlfriend works 100 yards away from me. We actually had many friends in common. But we met on JDate. And the reason — even though we had friends in common, we hadn't met, but we both went to where the market for the type of person we were looking for was thick, which is an online dating site. And it turns out that was a great way to meet even though we were running across each other in this thin market but not noticing each other all the time.

... So I run across people like my girlfriend all the time, but very few of them are looking for a relationship. And so what made the market thick was we both went to this online dating site where everybody was there for that one reason.

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