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If we can’t directly observe the market for a mate, we only really have two options if we want to determine people’s preferences: ask people their preferences or observe the outcome of the market.Neither one of these options is satisfactory though.For example, you might ask, “On a scale of one to ten, how important is it that your mate is the same race as you?” This is an interesting question because we observe surprising few mixed race marriages in the census data and finding out why is informative (we will definitely return to the question of same-race preference in a future post).Economists love online dating websites, not to find the love of their lives (although they might be doing that) but because they provide an opportunity to observe a fascinating market in action: the market for marriage.
It is a silly example but it does demonstrate the point that we can’t tell much about preferences for a mate simply by observing people who are already matched.
“They have a huge database and they also can follow couples’ stories through, which hasn’t been possible so far.” For most of history, using a third party to help you find love was the norm.
But in the 20th century this all changed, with young people deciding they wanted to be in charge of their own domestic destinies.
The problem with this approach is that people either lack self-awareness or tend to not to be very honest in their answers.
This doesn’t just apply to the question of race but about other characteristics as well.
This says that despite the impression that on the marriage market women really care about income, the evidence suggest that they also care about looks. I know what you are thinking: that there is more to finding a partner than looks and income.