In the 1904 11 minute short, “How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the New York Herald Personal Column,” the focus is the chase, literally. Through field and forest and finally in a pond, the number of women who responded to his ad run after him until only one remains.
Looking at a history of dating, the early 20th century was a starting point. The increasing number of women who left the farm to work in the city were among the first who had the freedom to date.
You can see below that the phrase on a date rarely appears in print before 1900:
Where are we going? To the connection between the history of dating and the economy.
The Economic Connection
Harvard economist Claudia Goldin has estimated that by 1900, 55 percent of all women worked outside the home. Living in boardinghouses or with relatives, they worked in factories and department stores and offices or as servants. The first to have the opportunity to meet men during and after work, these poorly paid women were able to get a hot meal and maybe some fun at an amusement park or a dance hall during a date.
As for middle class young women, it took until the 1920s for them to copy their working class sisters and until the 1940s for the typical high school date. Meanwhile, we can also think about the auto, root beer floats, Cokes, movie tickets and a ripple of consumer purchases that relate to clothing, cars, gasoline, meals, proms..the list is endless.
But you can see where we are going. From the work day and week determining when you could date, to the spending we do when we date, to the contemporary impact of online dating, everywhere, dating is an economic phenomenon.
Our Bottom Line: Dating Markets
We could say that dating took courtship to the market. On one side we have women’s participation in the labor force shaping who and when she dates. And then, on the other side, technology affects what couples do when they date.
And also, as Nobel economics laureate, Gary Becker (1930-2014) suggested, forget love. Instead think supply, demand and the traditional incentives that accompany them as men and women make decisions in marriage markets when they date.
We have come a long way from a 1904 personal ad.