A Game Theoretical Analysis of (a straight side of) Tinder.


by Lauren Fletcher.

Tinder kind of suck doesn’t it?

Guys get really low match rates (one study found the figure was 0.6% for men, compared to 10.5% for women), and women often end up with matches with guys who aren’t particularly interested in them and who only swiped right because of the incredibly low match rate.

There are lots of ways to look at it, but since this is an article about economics, let’s use game theory. Game theory moderates strategic interactions using math and logic. Game theory analysis requires three components: players, strategies, and payoffs. The players in this case are a man and a woman. The players can pick between two strategies: be selective with their matches or spam right swipes. The payoffs for this game are set out below with the payoffs for the woman written first.

The best possible outcome is that both genders are selective, since that means both matches with a person who’s interested in them. If both genders spam matches, then everyone will end up with a bunch of matches they don’t care about, which defeats the point of Tinder, giving a low payoff. If one gender is selective and the other spams, the person that is selective is happy, because they get a decent amount of matches and feel validated (don’t pretend that isn’t at least a little bit of the reason you use Tinder) while the other’s unhappy because they aren’t getting many matches. In this game, both the man and the woman will be selective, since that gives them a higher payoff then spamming, no matter what the other person does (the best response for each player are the number in red). Hence, in this nice little game, the overall payoff is maximized.

The game above may have been accurate when Tinder was first created, but Tinder has since evolved into the situation described in the intro. So, let’s take the current state of Tinder, when, men’s match rates are less than 1%, as a given and use payoffs in the new game. Here, the payoffs for the guy when both people are selective are now 3, because while that one guy can be selective, that won’t change the fact that millions of other guys are still spamming, so being selective won’t get a lot of matches. The result is that the woman is selective and the man spams.

While it would be better if everyone on Tinder became more selective and returned to the first game which would increase the overall payoff, no individual man has an incentive to be selective. So, we’re a bit stuck. Game theory doesn’t really provide a solution to this problem, just a framework for analysis. So, I guess all I can really say is, Tinder kind of suck doesn’t it?