The Dating Game

27 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2016 Last revised: 6 Sep 2019

Date Written: September 20, 2018


I examine a game-theoretic model of heterosexual courtship. Male-female pairs are randomly matched and decide whether to make romantic advances towards each other. They receive payoffs that depend on the utility from a romantic match, and the costs of rejection and unwanted advances/harassment. The game has three interesting Nash equilibria: the MI equilibrium where males always play the initiator role and females never do, the FI equilibrium where females always play the initiator role and males never do, and a completely mixed equilibrium where both males and females play initiator probabilistically. The former two equilibria are evolutionary stable; the latter is not.

I argue that the MI equilibrium is most likely to describe reality. On the other hand, I show that the FI equilibrium is optimal from the social welfare point of view if females are are on average more selective than males. I review evidence that indicates that this is indeed the case. Using data from a speed dating experiment, I estimate that a counterfactual FI equilibrium sees a 51\% reduction in the incidence of unwanted advances/harassment compared to a counterfactual MI equilibrium. The natural policy recommendation from this work is a movement from a cultural norm where males predominantly initiate romantic advances, to one where females do. In particular, this would minimise the social cost of unwanted advances/sexual harassment.

Keywords: sexual harassment, game theory

JEL Classification: C70, C78, J16

Suggested Citation

Kerr, Steven, The Dating Game (September 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Steven Kerr (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh ( email )

31 Buccleuch Place
Edinburgh, EH8 9JT
United Kingdom

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