Everything you always wanted to know about the economics of dating sites (but were afraid to ask)

One in three marriages in the United States now starts with a virtual connection, and algorithms have supplanted traditional dating and matchmaking agencies. The choices are seemingly endless: If you’re looking for a lasting relationship, eHarmony promises bliss. If it’s just a quick fling you’re after, there’s Tinder or Bumble. If your preferences are more specific, GlutenFreeSingles or ClownDating might appeal.

In the quest for a future partner almost everyone covets a profile that is more attractive than his or her own, and as a result, a significant number of prospective daters never get a response. Economic analysis once framed a theory to explain marriage, but the boom in dating sites has baffled many econometricians.

Before looking at how couples form, however, let’s consider the basic economic features of dating platforms. It’s less exciting but worth understanding if you think might one day want to use their services.

Big players behind the scenes

If you’re wary of monopolies, you may be reassured by the large number of sites—there are several thousand in all, and seemingly more every day. At first glance, it seems as if there is no dating equivalent to Google or Amazon with a stranglehold on the…

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