I met my wife through Match.com so I’m naturally a huge proponent of online dating services. And here today I learned of one, What’s Your Price?, that seems perfectly calculated to prompt economics blog discussions.
The WYP theory is that dating sites suffer from a structural oversupply of men messaging women with attractive profile pictures. That leads women to get an annoyingly high quantity of messages, and men to suffer from an unfortunately high chance of being ignored. WYP’s idea is that instead of a random message, a man is supposed to send an offer. A price he’s willing to pay in exchange for a date. Then the women looks at both the offer and the man’s profile, and decides if she wants to go on the date. By cutting down on cheap talk, the idea is that the woman gets a higher average quality of message and the man gets a lower average chance of being ignored. Best of all, the women get paid! As The Blow might say, all the girls are sitting on a pile of gold but the large potential surplus can’t be unlocked under conventional dating norms. That’s where WYP comes in.
To raise the obvious doubt here, though, the problem (or “problem”) here really is norms. It’s not socially acceptable to offer a woman a cash bribe in exchange for going out with you. WYP is acting as if this is a technical problem, like it hasn’t previously been possible to offer to women money in exchange for dates but that’s not really the issue here. I think it might actually work better if the woman didn’t get the money here. Imagine if the offer was to make a donation to GiveDirectly. In that case, the size of the offer would still serve as a signal of wealth and genuine interest as well as functioning as a screening device. But accepting the offer would signal a blend of reciprocal interest charitable impulses rather than a blend of reciprocal interest and greed.