It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smart phone must have downloaded Tinder (or, at the very least, contemplated doing so). While Tinder is far from the first online dating network created, it’s had enormous success in capturing the once elusive under 30 market. But why is this so? Why aren’t we all on e-Harmony instead? The answer reveals itself, as always, through economic analysis.

The dating market for a possible partner can be seen as a kind of barter economy. In order to enter into a successful transaction i.e. a relationship, someone must have what you want and in turn, this very same person must want what you have. In the realities of the dating world, the specific requirements of each individual participant are widely varied, encompassing a range of prerequisites such as gender, personality, smarts, handsomeness, beauty, music preferences, and the list goes on. Searching for another person in the dating market can be quite time consuming, especially if your list of requirements is long. And even if by chance you find that tall, dark and handsome man who happens to live on a country estate in Derbyshire (let’s call it Pemberley, shall we?) and earns £10,000,000 a year, there is no guarantee that your feelings will be returned.

Furthermore entering into the dating market is also a costly exercise which requires both emotional and financial investment. For example, Lizzie is a smart, attractive young woman who studies Economics and Law at UQ. One day, she meets a handsome boy in the library called George. George asks Lizzie out on a date. Lizzie, wanting to impress George, buys a new dress and heels, setting her back $250. She catches the train to the date, as George says he’s too busy to pick her up. $5 (Lizzie forgot to order herTTC Card). Low and behold, at the date Lizzie discovers that George is an egotistical snob who won’t shut up about himself. And he studies law at QUT! The horror! The relationship cannot progress from here and Lizzie leaves the date. George, annoyed and pissed off, has to foot the $150 bill for dinner. It has cost both parties considerable expenditure to enable them to ascertain that they are not compatible.

The key to understanding Tinder’s success is that it lowers the search costs associated with finding a potential partner. While Lizzie meets plenty of people in day-to-day life, there is no way of determining quickly whether they are also looking for a partner. By joining Tinder, Lizzie eliminates part of her search cost as she no longer has to determine who is looking for a girlfriend. As over to a million Australians have joined Tinder,[1] Lizzie’s chances of missing out on potential dates by constraining herself to a single dating market are decreased.

Tinder further decreases the search costs of Lizzie finding a boyfriend through its easy to use interface. Lizzie does not have to bother with cumbersome questionnaires, common to other dating sites, which ask her whether she prefers cats or dogs, what her birthdate is or what she is looking for in a relationship. All Lizzie has to do is swipe left or swipe right. It’s that simple. Furthermore, other costs associated with dating are eliminated. By simply asking a few questions to her matches, Lizzie can further decrease her search cost, as she no longer has to expend time and money in going on a date in order to talk to her potential matches. Less romantic? Yes. Economically efficient? Definitely.

Lizzie has no guarantee that she will meet her Mr Darcy but by decreasing her search costs, Lizzie has increased her chances of doing so. Lizzie’s only problem now is that Mr Darcy is swayed by first impressions and swipes left after finds her profile photo tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt him, thus denying both the chance at finding true love.

Rachael Stowasser


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