Bride inflation, Tinder and the derangements of modern dating
Part III of Wife Economics and the Domestication of Man
Man is born polygamous
The Church destroyed polygamy and spurred innovation
When Christian men go native
Slavery and polygamy: collapse of twin institutions
White Squaws and life under the stars
Part III (this Kvetch):
Bride inflation, Tinder and modern dating
Polygamy in Judaism (or, Love in the Time of Gomorrah)
8. Bride inflation, Tinder and modern dating
In a previous Part, I noted the phenomenon of bride inflation experienced by the Lakotas:
as women’s value as robe processors increased, so too did the bride price
This is an ancient phenomenon. In The Horse, The Wheel and Language David Anthony notes that when bride prices went up for Eurasian Steppe bands, so did violence and raiding as men needed to win more economics to attract mates:
Escalation in bride-prices encouraged Nuer men to raid their non-Nuer neighbors for cattle (and pastures to support them) that could be used to pay the elevated bride-price for a high-status marriage. Tribal status rivalries supported by high bride-prices in an arid, low-productivity environment led to out-migration and the rapid territorial expansion of the Nuer.
The Church effectively lowered the price of brides with its restrictions on marriage. A rich man could not attract multiple wives > bride price deflation > brides are distributed far and wide. From WEIRD:
Consider the reflections of the famed historian of medieval Europe David Herlihy:
“A great social achievement of the early Middle Ages was the imposition of the same rules of sexual and domestic conduct on both rich and poor. The king in his palace, the peasant in his hovel: neither one was exempt. Cheating might have been easier for the mighty, but they could not claim women or slaves as a right. Poor men’s chances of gaining a wife and producing progeny were enhanced. It is very likely that the fairer distribution of women across society helped reduce abductions and rapes and levels of violence generally, in the early Middle Ages.”
Modern female empowerment has taken two forms: increased education and career capital (which also translates into actual capital). This is a form of bride-price inflation. It’s more expensive to woo a bride. You need more status than in the past — more education, money, fame, talent, whatever. In a world where women prefer to marry up (our world), this creates a growing stub of men who are priced out of the mating market.
Dating apps like Tinder have added liquidity to the market as well as discretion — door-to-door tristes aren’t as conspicuous as rendezvous at the local bar. This serves to hide each group’s secret: successful men hide their success, unsuccessful men hide their shame and women their promiscuity. Moreover, hookup culture is a backdoor pass for elite men. Elite men feast, most men famine, and all women compete for elite men (~top quartile men) and suffer the illusion of success — but commitment is further away.
This is because women are just more selective and all compete for the top sliver of elite men:
You can visualise the same thing with OKCupid data a different way via this well known chart:
What’s more, while winning men are quietly grinning and losing men are embarrassed, women are gaslit: they have their “freedom”, so what’s wrong? It’s too old-fashioned to acknowledge the asymmetry in preferences for casual sex. Yet as Henrich so eloquently explains in WEIRD, asymmetry may be the defining feature of inter-sex relations: all our behaviours and preferences are downstream of those biological asymmetries.
Let’s dive deeper on the dynamics that drive modern dating and why they are uniquely deranging. There are four possible pools of mates: elite men, elite women, less successful men (incels), and less successful women.1
Diana Fleischman writes:
Courtship is expensive and complicated by design, and it’s the limiting factor of the sexual fulfillment of men
When these transaction costs fall via fewer social sanctions, the market becomes more liquid and elite men have ~infinite choice. And because men have evolved to maximise partners at minimal cost (commitment), happy days.
There’s also an important temporal dynamic to this. It gets better for elite men and worse for women over time.
Men’s prospects generally rise over time. This is for two reasons. First, men’s age preference for women is for younger women, and optimally forever fixed at ~22.
So there are more women in their target market as they age (ie. younger women relative to them). This is reversed for women. They prefer men older than them:
So women’s target market shrinks over time. And they face rising competition over time, as they compete with younger and younger women. (There are some very nice dynamic charts for someone who can bothered making them.)
Leonardo di Caprio is the Platonic example of this. He behaves exactly as you would expect a man who could have any woman in the world to behave under this model:
This model predicts that elite men would get married and have children later as they can’t believe their luck to live into a society with the cultural sanction and technology to provide infinite liquidity and availability of women for sex. And here we are. Tinder brought these men the Uber Eats model for sex.
Of course, this itself may be a delusion. I have written before that social norms function as a way to bridge decades of blind spots:
Culture also guides you with strange long-ago-forged nudges to get you over blind spots. You don’t know you want grandkids when you’re 20. The challenge is you’ll want them in 30 — 40 years. Tell that to a 20 year old and he may have trouble hearing you over the cacophonic need to fight and f*ck. So how do you set the right behavioral cadence for that? What can bridge decades long blind spots? Cultural norms to marry and bear children. The payoff will come.
So ironically, this dynamic may not even be good for elite men over the longer run. I do not envy any of my friends without kids who “feast” in the mating market. But these are the near-term preferences that govern elite male behaviour.2
Successful women are an interesting category to define. Partly because, in a mating market context, men don’t seem to be that particular. Women are understandably pickier. As Diana Fleischman writes:
Men don’t get pregnant and don’t lactate, and they have smaller, easier-to-produce sex cells than women. For a man, the cost of producing offspring is cheap.”
The challenge for elite women is several fold.
First, they face stiffer competition. It is harder to raise your price via a more complicated and expensive courtship process when there have never been more elite women available.
Another way of framing this: it’s a coordination problem. Elite women can’t collude to raise the price in concert.3 As noted in Part I, monogamous marriage may be an accidental coordination device for men and women. With modern dating, there are too many opportunities to defect: you can hook up discreetly. Women struggle to create elaborate courtship processes because they just price themselves out.
Second, highly educated and career successful women have fewer partners in their target band of higher status males, and those men are even more spoilt for choice.
‘Successful’ women tend to also be older, as they have allocated more time to ‘succeeding’ — to education and career achievements. So there is this deranging effect where the more successful a woman and the more devoted to her craft, the slimmer the pick of men and the more acute the competition.
The irony is that women less endowed with beauty, career or educational attainment — lower status women — have a large target market with lower competition. And they fall within the target bands of men, who are less particular. So these unsuccessful women may in fact find more success in the mating market. They avoid the derangement of rising expectations and declining prospects that beset ‘successful’ women.
Unsuccessful Men (incels)
Unsuccessful men get fewer mates than ever before as elite men hoard women.
It’s hard to get accurate data on who’s having how much sex but this chart has been making the rounds (probably unreliable, but I’ll use it anyway):
Optimistically, the future may have technological solutions to this – suped up equivalents of keeping them servicing themselves in their mother’s basement with VR and sex robots. The pessimistic take is that this optimistic take is in fact a dystopia.
As noted in previous Parts, disaffected young men are a perennial problem for societies. A society with more such men is less stable. Disaffected men benefit from volatility: they’re willing to take bold bets to win status and wives. Crime, revolutions. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Anyway, higher bride prices and the derangements of modern dating mean fewer marriages. Elite men shag around, delay marriage. Delayed marriage means fewer kids. Marriage and fertility rates drop across the West.
Actually, this is an older story beginning with female education. As Henrich notes:
[F]ormal schooling for girls—promoted by Protestantism—generally lowers fertility. This happens for several reasons, but one is simply that schooling allows women to avoid early marriage to finish their education. Now, European populations did grow in response to economic prosperity after 1500, but kin-based institutions and marriage norms constrained that expansion and shifted it into cities (via migration). In short, the demolition of kin-based institutions in Europe helped spring the Malthusian Trap by fueling innovation while simultaneously suppressing fertility.
Modern efforts like the Gates’ Foundation’s focus on female education in Africa is explicit about this: their stated objective, somehow uncontroversial, is to have fewer Africans via delayed family formation and fertility controls.
With the breakdown of monogamous marriage, and the rise of pseudo-polygamy (elite men sleeping with all the women in today’s dating market), it’s not so surprising that support for actual polygamy may be on the rise:
And that’s not even counting the apparent prolific polygamy practiced in the most backward and atavistic parts of the West, long lost to law and state, where man reverts to to his primal state. Like the harems of the Tiger Kingdom.
Funnily enough, the pseudo-polygamy that the Tinder mating economy creates is even more dangerous than actual polygamy — after all, the instances of actual polygamous marriage today are negligible. The current mating market has all the social costs of polygamy with none of the benefits — no costs are imposed on elite men. They do not provide for multiple women. They do not provide for extended families. They do not provide for swarms of children. They do exactly what you’d expect: they have as much sex as possible, almost costlessly.
If you were to design a system for elite men, it’s hard to think of something more perfectly tailored to their basest wants.
Monogamous marriage is a powerful social technology that distributes wives more equitably. Without monogamy, successful men hoard wives and sire more children and there are more men with neither wives nor children.
The modern Tinder mating market equilibrium is a Trojan horse for a pseudo-polygamy where all the benefits accrue to elite men. Its discrete nature hollows out many centuries of norms while maintaining its façade. Yet everywhere we look its effects are visible: declining birth rates, delayed family formation, disaffected non-elite men and miserable women. The frogs are well and truly boiling.
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A caveat! I met my now wife on Tinder and we have three perfect Tinder babies. I have been off dating apps for 7 years or so — I am sure much has changed. Many of these observations were obvious at the time and I’ve only seen these dynamics escalate since. But it’s not all bad, I am, as noted, an honest beneficiary.
It’s not surprising that infinite availability of casual sex is a false paradise. Men may be wired for it but it’s a genetic proxy for prodigy. As sex and love and marriage and families were disaggregated by the pill and modernity, we got stuck at this local minimum. Beauty is a trap. Every sixteen year old boy might fall in love with the brown eyed waitress, but that ubiquity is the point (ie. there is a brown eyed waitress for every sixteen year old boy to fall in love with). Perhaps beauty’s defining feature is it convinces you of its uniqueness in every instance — despite its utter ubiquity. It’s a hamster wheel. The way to break it is with something non-fungible: your own children. Perhaps love too is non-fungible. And when you make a market for casual sex, you make people fungible, and that breaks something. Perhaps that’s for another Kvetch.
This may be what movements like Me Too are partly about: a way to coordinate en masse to change culture and impose sanction on certain types of behaviour. Cartels to increase the bride price.