Is there a magic formula? Mate selection and the optimization of the marriage market

Jacques Antoine Gauthier, Nguyen Vi Cao, Marlène Sapin, Emmanuel Fragnière, Eric Widmer

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Empirical findings show that the success of marriages and other intimate partnerships depends on objective attributes such as differences of age, cultural background, or educational levels between partners. However, one previous publication that considers the marriage market as a stock to be optimized using a branch and bound algorithm triggered numerous and passionate public reactions. Therefore this chapter proposes on the one hand an enhancement of the model we used previously to optimally allocate partners within the set of structural constraints defining the marriage market. On the other hand it offers a critical discussion concerning the potential and limits of using such econometric methods in social sciences. Based on a representative and longitudinal sample of 1074 cohabitating and married couples in Switzerland, we estimate various objective functions corresponding to age, education, religion, devotion, ethnicity, depression, and previous divorce experience based on all possible pairs of men and women belonging to the sample. Results show that the current state of marriages or partnerships is well below the social optimum. Approximately three individuals out of four are reallocated to a couple with a higher chance of survival than the actual couple to which they belong. Of course this provocative stance does not support the idea that optimizing marriage is indeed possible or desirable. Instead, it claims that critically considering the social structures that influence marriage and divorce is a useful mission for the social sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMarriage
Subtitle of host publicationPsychological Implications, Social Expectations, and Role of Sexuality
PublisherNova Science Publishers
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781622571574
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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