The Economics of Love

When you get right down to it, the odds of finding true love are pretty dismal. Considering all the factors that need to line up perfectly like attraction, chemistry and timing, British mathematician Peter Backus put the chances at one in 285 000.  He based his calculations on the Drake Equation, which was derived in 1961 to estimate the number of possible extra-terrestrial civilizations that could exist in our galaxy. While the Drake Equation looks at factors like the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy and the fraction of those stars that have habitable planet, Backus whittled down the London dating pool by gender, age, education and attraction to a mere 26 lucky ladies.

But what if you had a magical Love Potion Number 9 that you could slip into someone’s drink to make them unwittingly and insatiably infatuated with you? How much could you charge for even a single dose?

Theoretical approaches to answering this question vary wildly, as love is one of those things that are nearly impossible to quantify in tangible terms. Different people experience it in markedly different ways, but there are some universal qualities that remain the same across race, class or sexuality. For the purpose of this piece, I refer to that boundless, can’t-get-you-out-of-my-head-but-I-don’t-even-want-to-try kind of love. In psychology, it is known as consummate love, characterized by intimacy, passion and commitment.

economicsofliveOne way of attempting to quantify the cost of love is looking at the financial costs of courtship such as dinner and a show, apology flowers for when you fuck up, a sparkling engagement ring and an unforgettable wedding. According to the research team at, you’d better start saving now because you’ll need an astonishing $43 842.

“We’re having a little fun with this, but all kidding aside, money problems are the most common reason for break ups,” noted Kelvin Mangaroo, president of

But this figure hardly compares with the monetary value of hearing the words “I love you” from your beloved’s lips for the first time. The British research group Brainjuicer polled 1,000 lottery winners and determined that the amount of happiness brought on by a declaration of love is equivalent to winning £163 424 ($256 911).

Another way of looking at the economics of relationships is by analyzing what happens to our social circles when we couple up. According to a study from Oxford University conducts by evolutionary anthropologist Brian Dunbar, we generally have about five close friends at any given point in our adult lives. To make room for a new love, one of those friends is given the boot.

“What I suspect happens is that your attention is so wholly focused on your romantic partner that you just don’t get to see the other folks you have a lot to do with, and therefore some of those relationships just start to deteriorate and drop down into the layer below,” theorized Dunbar.

So even though romantic relationships make us poor and less popular, they ultimately bring us something else that money can’t buy: happiness. Those who place a higher value on money than love are far more likely to be unsatisfied with their lives.  After all, your money can’t hug you when you’re feeling blue, massage your feet when you’ve had a rough day or stare deeply into your eyes while reciting romantic poetry. As soon as it can, the need for love as we know it might vanish forever.

Photo credit: 14 Wyys an Economist Says I Love You –

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