Written by Aditi Shankar
20-somethings in the city of dreams often face the daunting prospect that comprises the New York City dating scene. In a city characterized by fast-paced walking in conjunction with excessive smartphone usage, finding a significant other (or really, anyone outside of the friend-zone to grab a drink with) is increasingly difficult. Incessant Instagram feed scrolling and CNN-checking handicap the millennial generation from engaging in conversation with the new person sitting next to them at the local bar or coffee shop.
Enter dating apps. The founders of Tinder, Bumble, and the like identified this market space and offered the ideal solution: a way for city-dwellers to stay on their phones and still meet new people. Moreover, the ‘swiping’ mechanism introduced on these applications promotes both a sense of efficiency and detachment. For a generation that indulges in ‘mass’ consumption of all forms of technology, the aggregated collection of single, available people within a certain distance allows users to privately judge others in a relatively public space.
Empire State of Independence
The phone screen creates a barrier for the heart and the ego. Rejection doesn’t necessarily exist on these platforms – if a user ‘swipes right’ and doesn’t receive a ‘match,’ they can ostensibly justify this result by claiming that the other user hadn’t seen their profile yet. Further, the ‘mass’ nature of dating apps softens the blow of any form of rejection. “There’s other fish in the sea,” the old adage states – these other fish quite clearly exist when the sea is a mobile dating platform and one’s finger the fishing line.
New technologies have revolutionized the ‘market’ for dating, and play to the increasingly independent psychologies of city-dwellers and Stern students alike. Millennials can exert full control over dating apps – they can be as selective or as undiscriminating as they please. Furthermore, technology inherently involves a sense of anonymity: users can portray themselves as the best, or completely different, versions of themselves. Dating apps clearly take advantage of the psychologies of generation X. One stern student takes this idea further and claims that “Tinder is something that businesses have capitalized on because of [our generation’s] desperate need for self-validation.
Too Many Fish?
From an economics perspective, Tinder capitalizes on Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth’s work on ‘matching markets,’ where “supply and demand are not balanced price…[but] people transact based on information” (The Economist). The most efficient markets are “thick” (with a lot of participants). This observation is quite logical – the more people there are seeking digital dates, the greater the chance of finding a good match.
However, these advantages of thick markets are lost if they become too congested. Tinder sees over 26m matches per day; users could be overwhelmed and unable to locate a good match among the many fish in the sea. Industry leaders have recognized this issue. Tinder offers a filter function and allows users to ‘super-like’ to express interest at an increased level. But newer apps take this specialization mechanism further.
Bumble, often coined the ‘feminist Tinder,’ forces women to message their matches first. JSwipe and Dil Mil are catered to users with specific religious or ethnic interests (Jewish and South Asian, respectively). These apps allow users to supply their profile with more information (religion, in particular) – perhaps the more specialized apps target users with more of a long-term commitment in mind.
User specialization, however, could exacerbate the larger issue that assortative mating presents upon income inequality. The concept of assortative mating is quite simple, even obvious: “People with similar education tend to work in similar places and often find each other attractive. On top of this, the economic incentive to marry your peers has increased“ (The Economist). Dating apps allow users to screen for socioeconomic status even before determining whether another person is appropriate to talk to. University of Pennsylvania Professor Jeremy Greenwood argues that a correlation exists between assortative mating and household income inequality: Income equality would be smaller if not for the increase in assortative mating. Female labor force participation is also increasingly relevant: women now go to college and get high-paying jobs – the highly educated end up with the highly educated.
Stern junior Shruti Kumar summarizes the above issue: “Dating apps capitalize on the human condition on multiple levels — our generation and especially this modern feminism/third wave feminism is all about having ‘high standards’ and ‘dating up’. When apps like Tinder and Dil Mil allow you to filter based on education level or height, this problem of assortative mating is exacerbated. These features could also incentivize users to style their profile to appear more wealthy and/or educated, to maximize on ‘matches’ and eventual dates.” “Well to-do people do better on these apps anyway, because other people will be attracted to them rather than to others of their own income bracket,” adds Sean Gallagher ‘18.
While some view Tinder as “an entertaining way to kill time when you’re on the toilet,” (Abhishek Shah ‘18) many college students do report finding their respective significant others on dating apps. One junior, who found her significant other via dating apps, comments: “Tinder eliminates that nervousness of ‘does he find me attractive?’ Uncertainty is out the door, which really contributes a lot to that first in-person meeting.”
Freshmen seem to take the long-term possibilities of meeting someone via a dating app less seriously, referring to Tinder dates as “last resorts.” Regardless of a user’s intention on dating apps, or the intentions behind the development of Tinder in the first place, psychological & generational trends indicate that dating apps are here to stay.