Dollars and Sex

How economics influences sex and love

Dear Bachelor Producers, Please Seek Professional Help

In the absence of competition among men, short-term relationships dominate.

The Bachelor Canada is holding a casting call in my hometown this week, inviting singles to take one “Last chance for romance!” Men who are not tapped to be the next bachelor, or women who are not one of the 25 lucky ladies, need not despair; the format of the show creates an environment in which finding lasting love is extremely unlikely. 

Of the 17 completed seasons of the Bachelor USA, 11 couples did not make it to the three-month mark in their relationship, only three made it beyond a year, and of those only one couple eventually married (just last week!).

There is a reasonable market explanation for the inability of the show to create lasting relationships; one the producers of the Canadian show might want to take into consideration when choosing the format for the upcoming season.

It comes down to the mating strategy a man will choose when he is trying to maximize his biological fitness – to have as many children as possible – and that choice of strategy depends on the level of competition he faces from other men.

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When single women are abundant, and there is relatively little competition from other men, the best strategy is for a man to seek out a series of short-term sexual relationships in the hope that each one might produce a child.

When single women are relatively scarce, and there is a great deal of competition from other men, the best strategy is for a man to seek out a long-term committed relationship and have many children with that one woman.

In the face of headed competition from other men, failing to commit to one woman could very well exclude a man from the business of reproduction all together. Alternatively, committing to one woman in the absence of competition from other men deprives a man of the opportunity to reproduce with a variety of women.

I would argue that the non-competitive environment in which men are searching on the Bachelor encourages the early elimination of women who are better candidates for long-term relationships and the continuation of the women who are better candidates for short-term relationships.

Researchers have observed women, at least, change their preferences for men based on the biological imperative. For example, studies have found that when women are ovulating they are far more likely to choose men for short-term sexual relationships that they would have considered unsuitable for long-term committed relationships.

It seems reasonable that men also have different preferences for short- and long-term partners depending on the biological incentives.

This might be just my perspective, but a relationship that is over in a couple of weeks doesn't exactly seem like much of a chance for romance. It is disheartening how poorly people choose when searching in this entirely artificial environment, and in that I am certain I am not alone. That makes me wonder, maybe it is time that the Bachelor series brought in an expert advisor; the participant’s mother is one option, a professional matchmaker is another.

If the producers brought in a professional matchmaker to help the Bachelors work through their decisions, even I might be tempted to watch the show. That would be far more interesting than seeing them stare out over the ocean, agonizing over who should stay and who should go. That representation of how bachelors make their decisions is particularly tedious when we know the relationship will probably be over before the finale goes to air.

[In case you are wondering, The Bachelorette series has a slightly better track record. In only two out of the eight seasons that resulted in a match did the relationship last less than a year, two couples have married and one couple is engaged.]

Big thanks to my student, Rebecca Foley who originally wrote about this topic in her class blog from my Women in the Economy class at UBC and forward to me this post  on the Freakonomics Blog on this topic. 

 

Marina Adshade, Ph.D., teaches at the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia.

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