Sex, love and economics

First aired on The Homestretch (11/03/13)

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We're often led to believe that love is purely about what the heart desires, but economics professor and author Marina Adshade argues that your romantic decisions in life are affected by numbers too, even if you're not aware of it.

In fact, she believes that our choices regarding love and libido -- why we act the way we do -- can be explained through economic theories.

dollars-sex.jpg"This started about four years ago when I was looking for a way to teach my students economics in a way they could really engage with the material, in a way they could relate to their own lives," she told Homestretch during a recent interview.

Her classes quickly became packed with curious students. Then she started a blog. Now she's written a book, Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love. In her ongoing quest to demystify relationships, she's been surprised by just how well economics can explain what we've long thought to be deeply personal matters.

One interesting preconception, she said, is that the current generation of teenagers are hyper-sexed and promiscuous, which is what news reports of sexting and nude photo scandals would suggest. But the numbers don't confirm that, according to Adshade. Teens today are actually "far less promiscuous than teens have been in the past."

"There's a good economic explanation for that. Over the last 30 years, the amount of money you could earn if you don't finish high school -- if you only have high school and don't go on to university education -- has really fallen in Canada, fallen by about 35 per cent. And I think teens are responding to that."

Your luck in the dating pool -- or lack of it, if that's the case -- may also have less to do with your personal characteristics and more to do with the market in which you're looking. Calgary, for example, has the most balanced gender ratio in all of Canada, according to Adshade. That's not true for the entire province. There are towns in Alberta where the men greatly outnumber women, she said, meaning that if you're a heterosexual man, it will be much harder to find a single female partner given that the demand far exceeds the supply. Another interesting trend she found was that in areas where the number of women is greater than the number of men, there is more traditional dating and less casual hooking up, which would affect your chances for romance, depending on the kind of relationship you're interested in.

She said the purpose of her writing and work isn't necessarily to encourage people to make decisions about relationships using numbers or market theories, but to make them aware of how economics permeates our personal and social lives.

"[When it comes to finding a romantic partner] I don't get what I want, right -- I get what I want and who else wants me. You have to have some return. I just don't get to pick a person. So I think, even if you're not making choices based on economic factors, I think you're still being influenced by the market."

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