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LOVE FOR SALE! THE ART OF SELLING LOVE IN A POST-RECESSION ECONOMY

SARAH REECE

Media Planner

 

February 7, 2013 — A new optimism is gripping the nation. Stocks are rising. The housing market is reactivated. And love is on sale! Marketers are peddling love, and consumers are eating it up. With more than 40 million people in the U.S. having tried online dating and 17% of married couples attributing their first meeting to the Internet, online dating is here to stay. We’ve also seen recent growth in the jewelry industry. Last month alone saw 18% growth month over month in online sales. But at the same time, marriage rates are on a steady decline with only 22% of Millennials having tied the knot, down from 29% in 1997 and over 50% in 1960.

So if people aren’t pairing up the way they used to do, who exactly is buying the love? In short, the answer is single women. Both the structure of matchmaking sites and the endangered status of the traditionally marry-able male species in a post-recession economy have created the perfect environment for the flourishing of the single woman.

A major argument from the opponents of online dating is that the rise in technology minimizes the transaction cost of dating. As soon as a relationship begins to go south, it’s much easier to move on. With hundreds of potential mates at your fingertips, your next date is only a click away. Exacerbating this situation, is that the marketing model of online dating touts each service’s ability to find your perfect match, conditioning consumers to never settle and validating, even encouraging, their impulse to jump ship as soon as things get rocky.

The draw of online dating is only spurred on by its ease and convenience in a still-struggling economy. Dating is expensive. Dating is risky. In a society that is still stinging from the great recession, we want that security and connection of a romantic relationship without all the hassle. Online dating services act as a safe place to try out new relationships with minimal investment of time, energy, money and emotions. This minimized transaction cost is both the draw and the flaw of online dating.

But we can take this even further. Male dating habits are often the focus of conversations about online dating. We see this espoused in the Guttentag-Secord theory, which holds that members of the minority gender are significantly less dependent on their partners precisely because they have a larger pool of mates available to them. In a female-heavy society, this results in men becoming more unwilling to commit. As a result, women often choose not to rely on their partners for fulfillment and turn to external relationships, education and careers for satisfaction. This push to find gratification outside the home, coupled with the recession, in which 75% of the jobs lost were from the male workforce, traditionally marry-able men have become scarce. With women being more educated and employed, it’s harder for us to find a suitable counterpart. Simply put, women aren’t marrying.

So, yes, love is on sale. But it’s not the kind of love we traditionally think of. With more women choosing to remain single, the buying power of the nation is shifting. Women are indulging. (See rising social media trend #treatyoself.) And they are indulging in self-love. Jewelry sales on the rise? See the right-hand ring phenomenon. Online dating on an upswing? See the prevalence of hook-up culture among women in their 20s. As advertisers, we have the responsibility to adapt to the rise of the single woman and shift our brand messaging to speak to her where she’s listening.

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