18 Nov 2015

Why Tinder Won’t Find You True Love

Leanne writes*

Currently, the widely known online-dating app called Tinder handles 21 million matches on a daily basis. In exchange for your personal Facebook data, you get to enter the enormous market for love (and sex?).

In a way, Tinder has significantly lowered the costs of finding love, or simply a date for your regular Netflix & Chill. Simply by swiping left or right in the app you can select possible matches according to your preferences. Add another cheeky pick-up line, and there you go, you got your first “spark”. This way of dating reduces the costs of finding love or a date in several ways.

First of all, you can find a partner, or “Match,” from your couch, in your sweatpants. There are no costs of going out to a bar, where you have to buy a drink in order not to look cheap, or of walking up to a stranger on the street with a significant chance of being burned down, for whatever reason. Moreover, the fact that Tinder only reveals your interest in another person if it is mutual means there is no risk of a loss of face.

So then why does not everyone find love via Tinder? Well, because of the same anonymous nature and the very low costs of entering the market of Tinder. Namely, these matches are based on very little information (max 5 pictures and an “inspiring” quote). Furthermore, creating a fake account to “catfish” or to joke around out of boredom literally takes 10 minutes. Furthermore, a profile doesn’t reveal whether a person is looking for true love or just for some fun. It also makes it very easy to hide or alter physical traits, but also other personal facts like hobbies and career info.

Thus, if we consider those that are actually looking for love on Tinder “good matches” and those with other intentions “bad matches”, we can identify a process of adverse selection on Tinder. That is, just like the Market of Lemons described by Akerlof, the Market of Tinder Love has a high rate of quality uncertainty due to the asymmetric information about personal information, physical appearance but also romantic intentions.

Even though this asymmetry also exist in real life dating (like forgetting to mention you are an ex-convict or lying about wanting to have kids), on Tinder, it is significantly easier to hold back crucial information that might be an instant deal breaker in real life. What is more, the quality uncertainty is also increased because there is absolutely no reputation building that can punish lying Tinder “lemons,” like we see on other social apps like Uber and Airbnb.

The quality uncertainty in combination with a lot of stories of bad Tinder date experiences makes that those truly looking for love will eventually realize that swiping through a pile of digital Polaroids might not be their best shot. The adverse selection results in a bunch of Tinder lemons that are either looking for a quick fix for their loneliness or are just swiping because they finished all levels of Candy Crush.

Bottom Line: The chances of you getting a sour surprise after swiping are higher than you finding some sweet, sweet Tinder love.

* Please comment on these posts from my microeconomics students, to help them with unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc.