- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2014

“Looking for fun ,” he types on his online dating profile.

“Only serious inquiries, please. Not into games,” she types into hers.

America’s young adults seem star-crossed all right: If she’s looking for a serious commitment, and he’s looking for a hot date tonight, what are their chances for love, let alone marriage?

It’s a question so compelling that a Texas research institute has released a 10-minute video that tries to explain the mysteries of attraction in terms of economic supply and demand. Adam Smith, call your relationship therapist.

“The Economics of Sex” video is the first of several that will connect “compelling data with everyday life,” said academic Mark Regnerus and his colleagues at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture.

The video, released on Valentine’s Day, uses a series of time-lapse whiteboard drawings and classic economic analysis to explore why young-adult marriage rates in the United States are dropping while dating-service industry figures have exploded. The answer, the video’s creators suggest, is partly because of the unintended consequences of reproductive technology, i.e., the birth control pill.

Before the 1960s, “sex before marriage took place during the search for a mate — someone to marry. Sex was oriented toward marriage,” the video said.

But with the arrival of affordable, reliable contraception, the link between sex and marriage has been all but shattered.

This led to a split in the “mating market,” according to the Austin researchers. The “sex market” is filled with a lot of men who compete for the attention of the relatively fewer women in that market, while the “marriage market” is filled with an oversupply of wannabe brides who vie for the relatively fewer number of wannabe grooms.

The results: lower marriage rates for young adults, older average ages for marrying couples and the rise of a $1 billion dating industry aimed at helping people find partners who are shopping in the same “market.”

The movie has struck a chord with some, who say it helps explain the loss of mooring for many women after the collapse of traditional moral standards and courting patterns.

“It’s a tough market out there for marriage-minded women,” blogger Catherine Harmon wrote at her Catholic World Report site. “While women may be the ‘gatekeepers’ in the sexual economy — deciding when and under what circumstances sex will occur — it is men who remain securely in the driver’s seat in the marriage market.”

But the video’s marriage of the dismal science and the mysteries of sexual sorting has not been universally popular. The video has been bashed as generally clueless about people and insulting to women.

More than one critic of the video has denounced it as a faux-hipster way to revive the argument “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?”

“Sex Is Not an ‘Economy’ and You Are Not Merchandise,” wrote Lindy West, an unamused blogger on women-oriented Jezebel.com.

“The 1950s called, they want their archetype back,” commented a reader on Freakonomics.com, which posted an item on the video.

The idea that female sexuality has high value to men — but not the reverse — was advanced a decade ago by Florida State University psychologist Roy F. Baumeister.

His paper, which is referenced in a research guide accompanying the video, details research that finds that women’s sexuality — chastity and fidelity — is and historically has been valuable in economic terms.

“Economic principles suggest that the price of sex will depend on supply and demand, competition among sellers, variations in product, collusion among sellers and other factors,” Mr. Baumeister wrote in “Sexual Economics: Sex as Female Resource for Social Exchange in Heterosexual Interactions.”

The video concludes that since women control when sex occurs in a romantic relationship, they also could control the market — and if women want more commitment and marriage, they should join forces to make such relationships the “price” for sex.

“Collusion — women working together — would be the most rational way to elevate the ‘market value’ of sex,” the video argues.

The video’s call for a sisterhood on sex — and the rest of its content — was too much for blogger Amanda Marcotte, a self-described “snark.”

“Clearly, the height of a woman’s happiness is being saddled for life with a man who barely puts up with her because he fears he can’t get sex anywhere else,” she wrote Thursday on Slate.com. But, she added, the video is “in a cutesy format, so let’s pretend it’s hip.”