During the 1960s, the blind date and the social mixer were how many of us met new men and women at college.
But in December 1964, three Harvard students figured out a better way. Renting time on a massive mainframe computer, they developed a dating algorithm called Operation Match. To receive the names of five “compatible dates” all you had to do was answer 135 questions and pay $3.
The concept was a success and the rest is history.
Where are we going? To changing marriage markets.
Computerized dating has moved far beyond its college roots. Just comparing 2013 to 2015, we can identify a shifting demographic. Whereas dating traffic had been dominated by 25- to 34-year-olds, now a larger proportion of people who are younger and older are heading online to find a mate. At the younger end, the proportion of individuals who are using online dating has almost tripled. Meanwhile, the size of a senior cohort has doubled.
Still only at 15% of American adults, internet dating through online sites and mobile apps went up from 11% in 2013. Below you can see that the expansion of online matching is coming from new age groups:
Our Bottom Line: Thick Marriage Markets
A market is a process that facilitates transactions between buyers and sellers. Explained by Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth, marriage and mating occur in matching markets that function better if they are sufficiently “thick.” All he meant by “thick” was more transaction volume.
As marriage matching markets moved from high school to college and the work place, so too did market thickness. And now, we have online dating creating thicker markets by increasing the number of matching possibilities.
My sources and more: Long but logical, Alvin Roth’s interview with the Minneapolis Fed is a good starting point for grasping his matching research while this Bloomberg article provides some computer-based dating history through the origins of Operation Match. Then, to complete the picture, I suggest these Pew Research online dating facts. However, the best resource is Alvin Roth’s Who Gets What –and Why. An enjoyably readable description of matching markets, the book is the perfect way to learn about a sophisticated topic.