Truly Lovelorn

9th February, 2008

Dear Economist,
I am 17 years old and my school only recently became coeducational. The other sixth-form students are almost all male, like me. I feel that the school does not meet my romantic needs and that I will never know true love while at school. In fact, I’m not having much luck at finding any love at all. Please can you help, or even just offer some hope?
Yours, truly lovelorn,
Student K, Bedford

Dear Student K,

You are right. The sixth form does not meet your romantic needs. Even if the boys only mildly outnumbered the girls – say, 55 to 45 – then assuming everyone paired off in the traditional fashion, there would be 10 boys left out, hormones raging, willing to offer the girls a better deal in one way or another. Sensible girls know how to exploit this healthy competition in their favour.

Still, as you grow older, your time will come. In cities across the developed world, dating-age women outnumber dating-age men. (Economist Lena Edlund argues that women have more to gain from city life than men.)

The excess supply of datable women and the resulting dating disadvantage forces women into bursts of self-improvement, which may explain why they tend to be better dressed and better educated than men. Research by economists Kerwin Charles and Ming Luoh finds a similar effect when many otherwise-marriageable men end up in prison. It does not take much to tip a dating market out of equilibrium, and your plight seems particularly extreme.

Yet take heart. At your age I was in an even worse situation, at an all-boys school. All seemed lost, until I discovered that the girls’ school opposite was willing to look for some gains from trade.

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