Tinder hookups displace hookups that are more likely to lead to relationships?

[epistemic status: completely unverified hypothesis straight out of my ass. Many of these “facts” are subjective impressions that may turn out to be just untrue. Very sloppy fact checking.]

According to the Atlantic, we’re currently in the midst of a sex recession. Fewer people are having sex, and those that are are having less of it, in comparison to previous decades.

Furthermore, it looks to me that many in my generation are not on track to have kids and raise a family. [Note: that might be totally false. For one thing, people are marrying and having kids later, so maybe I just need to wait a half decade. There are articles saying that the birthrate is falling, but just eyeballing the graph, it looks like it has been hovering around 2 births per woman since 1972.]

I have the impression that fewer romantic pairings are happening. Fewer people are ending up in romantic relationships. Why might that be?

In a word, Tinder.

In 2012, Tinder was launched, and by the mid 2010s it had reached fixation. I posit that maybe swipe-based mobile apps had a number of large scale societal impacts that we’re just starting to see. Namely, that hook-up pairings that result from tinder like apps, are less likely to lead to long term relationships.

Pairing with people in your local social context increases the foder for a robust long term relationship

Before tinder, people hooked up with people in their local social environment: you met people in your dorm, or in the classes you were taking, or at your workplace, or in a bar, or at a party, or through friends.

But it seems that the popularity of tinder-like apps must have displaced at least some of that activity. Now, if you want to hook up, you’re more likely to do it via an app.

I would guess that if you hook up with someone who lives in the same dorm as you, that hookup is much more likely to transition to an ongoing relationship. If you’re hooking up with someone that you’ve already interacted with a good deal, there’s the possibility of being attracted to a partner on the basis of attributes like shared interests, or positive character traits like generosity or humor. In contrast, on Tinder, approximately the only criteria for mate-evaluation are 1) looks (as embodied in a photo) and 2) chat game.

Hooking up with someone that you like from your interactions with them seems much more likely to lead to a long term relationship, compared to hooking up with someone almost solely on the basis of their photo. Having met in person, the two of you are more likely to share a lot of common context (similar interests, overlapping social group, similar priorities), which can turn a recurring hookup into an actual relationship.

Heavy power laws of sexual success push against relationships

Secondly, tinder aggravates a power law distribution of male sexual success. There have always been “Chads”, who were particularly attractive to women. Men are, in general, less discriminating about sexual partners than women are, so those men would have casual sex with many partners. Many women are pairing with a few men, resulting in a sex-pairings graph with a small number of super-connectors, and a larger number of unconnected or loosely connected nodes (less attractive-to-women men, who are having much less sex than the population average).

However, I suspect that tinder-like apps further consolidate that distribution of sexual success.

Tinder has a much larger pool to filter than in-person context. Women, flipping through tinder, can choose to mach with only the very most attractive guys. In contrast, if they were going to a bar to hook up, they would, at best, be able to hook up with only the most attractive guy at that particular bar. And even then, only one woman at a bar could pair with the most attractive man at that bar at any given time, whereas on Tinder, a very successful guy could match with multiple women in a day, and have sex with all of them in sequence.

Hookups with highly sexually-successful chads seem unlikely to transition to long term relationships, because for those men, the opportunity cost of monogamy is much larger.

Additionally, even if those men do want to transition to a long-term relationship, they would only do it with (approximately) one out of hundreds of women. So, for most women hooking up with a hyper-sexually-successful man, the likelihood of that hookup transitioning into a relationship is very low.

Which means that tinder allows women, as a whole, to hook up with the same number of men as women 2 decades ago, and on average, their partners are more attractive to them, but less likely to pair-bond with them in a long term relationship.

Since the transaction costs for having sex are lower when you’re already in a relationship, fewer people ending up in relationships means that there is less sex happening overall. And fewer relationships means fewer people getting married and having kids.

Some predictions that this model makes and other hypotheses


  • We should see that the power-law of sexual success for men has moved to be closer to winner-take-all since 2012. More men are having no sex or close to no sex, but the men who are having a lot of sex are having more of it than their peers-from-the-previous-cohort (is there a words for this?).
  • Fewer hookups are happening via the “traditional channels”
    • As a corollary of this, men must either be asking women out in person less, or women must be saying “yes” (to sex, if not to dates) less, or both.

Everything that I’m saying here is also compatible with the hypothesis:

“Most men and women mostly aim for casual sex in their 20s, and steer toward looking for longer term relationships and marriage partners in their 30s. Tinder has all of these impacts in the first phase, but doesn’t influence the second phase much.”

This is possible, I suppose, but given the common trope of couples that met in college, it seem like over the past 50 years, long term committed relationships have evolved from more casual relationships, which I think often start as hookups.

This tweet from the author of a paper about how people meet their partners does seem to match this story.

It looks like online dating is displacing “meeting through friends”, “meeting through / as coworkers”, and “meeting in college.”

Why is the media consumption of adult millennials the same as it was when they were children?

[Random musings.]

Recently, I’ve seen ads for number of TV shows that are re-instantiations of TV shows from the the early 2000s, apparently targeted at at people in their late twenties and early thirties, today.

For instance, there’s a new Lizzie Mcguire show, that follows a 30-year-old Lizzie as a practicing lawyer. (In the original show, she was a teenager in high school.) In a similar vein, there’s a new That’s So Raven Show, about Raven being a mom.

Also, recently, Disney released a final season of Star Wars the Clone Wars (which ran from 2008 to 2014).

These examples seem really interesting to me, because this seem like a new phenomenon. Something like, Millennials unironically like and are excited about the same media that they liked when they were kids. I think think this is new. My impression is that it would be extremely unusual for a 30 year-old in 1990, to show similar enthusiasm for the media they consumed as a 12 year old. I imagine that for that person there is a narrative that you are supposed to “grow out of childish things”, and a person who doesn’t do that is worthy of suspicion. (Though I wasn’t there in 1990, so maybe I’m miss-modeling this.)

My impression (which is maybe mistaken), is that Millennials did not “grow up” in the sense that earlier generations did. Instead of abandoning their childhood interests to consume “adult media”, they maintained their childhood interests into their 30s. What could be going on here?

  • (One thing to note is that all three of the examples that I gave above are not just Disney properties, but specifically Disney+ shows. Maybe this is a Disney thing, as opposed to a Millennial thing?)

Some hypotheses:

  • One theory is that in the streaming era, demographics are much more fragmented, and there is an explosion of content creation for every possible niche, instead of aiming for broad appeal. So while there always would have been some people who are still excited about the content from their childhood, now media companies are catering to that desire, in order to capture that small demographic.
  • Another possibility is that the internet allowed for self-sustaining fandoms. In the past, if you liked a thing, at best you could talk about it with your friends, until that content ended and your friends moved on. But with the internet, you could go on message boards, and youtube, and reddit, and be excited about the things you love, with other people who love those things, even decades after they aired. The internet keeps your childhood fresh and alive for you, in a way that wasn’t really possible for previous generations.
  • Maybe being a geek became destigmatized. I think there is one group of adults in 1990 that would be unironically excited about the content that they enjoyed as kids and teen-agers: Nerds, who still love Star Wars, or Star Trek, or comic books, or whatever. (I posit that this is because nerds tend to like things because of how natively cool they seem, which is pretty stable over a lifetime, as opposed to tracking the Keynesian beauty contest of which things are popular with the zeitgeist / which things are cool to like, which fluctuates a lot over years and decades.) For some reason (probably related to the above bullet point), being a geek became a lot less socially stigmatized over the early 2000s, and there was less social backlash for liking nerdy things, and for being unironically excited about content that was made for children.
    • I feel like there is deeply related to sex. I posit that the reason that most young men “grow out of childish things”, is that when they become interested in girls, they start to focus near-exclusively on getting laid, and childish interests are a liability to that. (Nerds either 1) care more about the things that they like, so that they are less willing to give them up, even for sex or 2) are more oblivious of the impact that their interests have on their prospects for getting laid). But I have the sense that unironically liking your childhood media is less of a liability to your sex-life in 2000, than it was in 1990, for reasons that are unclear.
    • (Again, maybe it is because the internet allows people to live in communities that that also appreciate that media, or maybe because nerds provided a ton of social value and can get rich and successful, so being a nerd is less stigmatized on the dating market, or maybe because special effects got so good that the things that were cool to nerds are now more obviously cool to everyone (eg superhero movies have mass appeal).
  • Maybe the content from the early 2000s is just better, in some objective sense, than the content of the 1970s – 1980s. Like maybe my dad grew out of the content that he watched as a kid, because it was just less sophisticated, where as the content that my generation watched as kids, is more interesting to adults?
  • Maybe the baby boomers had an exciting adult world to grow into, which was more compelling than their childhood interests. Millennials feel adrift in the world, and so default to the media they liked as kids, because they don’t have better things to do?