Sex and the City Economy

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“Where there’s a will there’s a way.” she text me. But even when it comes to sex, as an urban economist I don’t respond well to binary options. “The longer the way, the lesser the will” I replied. Yes, I am that kind of geek.

I would like to talk about some market behaviors in the city that we usually disregard – sex and love. On these “markets” we are simultaneously both the service providers and the customers, no money is involved (yes… by all means, feel free to make your jokes here) and yet Supply and Demand of those are playing a role in the way our cities function.

When I was young and single I lived in Tel Aviv. I had a reasonable salary so… I’d frequent restaurants, clubs, I met girls, made friends (or vice versa?), the whole deal. Few year later I got married and by the time my daughters were born we already moved out of the big city.

Stop! Does this story sound familiar? Of course it does. This story repeats itself in any big city, Tel Aviv or Dallas, Paris or Chicago. It happens regardless of architecture type, city location or housing prices. It is a feature of the big city and it is influenced by several factors, including sex.

One of the reasons the city attracts young people is that the city offers more sex. Among the top considerations for young people when choosing their place of residence or where they will study is the desire to find a match for love or sex. Naturally, this prospect increases as there are more people around you. The chances of finding someone you like are greater in the larger Tel Aviv than it is in Hadera, the small town where I was born.

But it is not only that, this preference exhilarates itself. As more singles moves to the big city, fewer are staying in the small towns, making them even less attractive and the network effect accelerates the process.

I have explained parts of it here – Uber Game Economics 101, but let me now refer specifically to this market.

The Economy of the Network Effect

The best example for this economic model is the telephone, and I’ll present it here: When the telephone network was established, no one had any reason to join, after all, who could you call when no one else had a phone to answer with? As more users join, the benefit each user gets is higher and thus more users are likely to sign in. In this type of network there is a point of “Critical Mass”, once the number of users is over that initial run and the network is gaining momentum and growing almost by itself.

Same gender matchmaking follows this economy. If you are gay, the more gay people you have around you the easier it will be for you to find a match.

same gender matching

However, dual gender matchmaking follows a Dual network effect.

The viability for men to live in the city increases the more women it has, and the viability for women to join increases with the number of men. In other words, if it’s raining men (hallelujah!) it is very worthwhile for women to join but at the same time … less worthwhile for men. Once there are actually plenty of men competing for each woman, new males are less likely to join. In a dual network, your chance to find a mate increases with more participants of the opposite gender that live nearby but decreases as it has more participants of your own gender.

But why are there no normal men to be found?

Here is the main problem when facing the matchmaking game (and transportation services also by the way). the dual networks are not symmetrical. Let’s try to explain it plainly to see what it means.

Let’s assume we are on an island where there are 100 men and 100 women, evenly distributed of all ages between 1 and 100. That is, there is one boy and one girl that are one year old, one boy and one girl that are two years old, and so on up to… one old man and one elderly woman that are 100 years old. On the face of it, the situation is completely balanced and we can find a bride for every groom.

However, in our theoretical island any woman over the age of 20 wants to get married while men want to marry only if they are over the age of 30.

Houston, we have a problem! At any given time we have 80 women looking for partners but only 70 men. We can never find a matching solution for all the woman out there.

This is a “Asymmetrical Dual Networks” situatation and we can’t fix it.

The story goes on…

It’s been years since I lived in Tel Aviv and later on I’ve divorced and turned single again, I was “in the game” again and I had to decide where to live. I wanted to stay in the same small town close to my daughters but on the other hand – it was “dry”. How am I going to meet women here? If I go out on a date in Tel Aviv, if it includes alcohol and certainly if it goes well and carries on late into the night, I have a problem. It is impossible to meet in Tel Aviv and and continue to live in the periphery an hour away from it. I noticed that as much as I love sex and looking for love (or vice versa?), I put the consideration of travel distance and parking as a determining factor with whom I will meet and with whom I will not.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way” she texted me. But as she was located 40 minutes away and I refused, “The longer the way the lesser the will”. Yep, I’m that old, 30 minutes ride is the limit for dating sites matchmaking. I guess with Tinder today the average limit for guys like me dropped to… 15 minutes? It’s a factor of your gender, age, desperation, beauty and Photoshop capabilities. Anyway, then and now, you would look for someone in your city.


Sex, love, courtship or matchmaking, call this market whatever you want. I would like to draw your attention to its special feature and use the term I have used for other special economies – “hassle-distance”.  This term is very important in understanding the processes in the city and I’m referring to it quite a lot in this blog.

I’m sure it happens to us all – we’re going to meet someone and one of the considerations whether to continue seeing him is the hassle required. It is much easier to have a relationship with someone from the same city than  with someone an hour or two hours away.

Every “product” has a reasonable “hassle-distance”. The kindergarten will be 5 minutes away, the office where you work is an hour away. For bread and milk we will not go far, for designer shoes some woman will be ready to go to London … for the men smirking at the stereotype of the last paragraph, I’ll ask you how far will you be willing to travel to see the Champions League finals that is broadcast live. Each product has a reasonable Hassle-Distance  that is particular for the specific product and the specific consumer. For sex / love / match this distance is relatively short and requires singles to flock.

This principle in which a community huddles to a particular place of residence becomes even more acute when the community is small. The gay community is smaller than the heterosexual community. If Straight’s chances of finding love are not that good in small towns, homosexuals chances are even lower. The characteristics of the gay community, such as the very small number of children in their families, makes the big cities even more attractive for them. When you have the money to spend and the desire to find a partner, you strive to realize it and be as close as possible to “where it happens”.

Similar behavior will be found in immigrant communities and in small communities bound by a common religion. A small community will always gather tightly.

Sex and the big city

The main reason that young people are willing to pay high rents for cramped housing, to work for a minuscule wage in the sweatshops of ad agencies where they are burned out until they are replaced, is because the big city makes it easier to find sex and love than their hometowns. They smile and say:”Bro, you don’t get it! California girls!”

California girls
We’re unforgettable
Daisy dukes
Bikinis on top
Sun-kissed skin
So hot
We’ll melt your popsicle
Ooh oh ooh

Hmmm … No one writes about California cities, architecture, economy or personal prospects.

Crowding of young people in the big city is related to the size of the city. It happens in every big city in the world. Sex drugs and rock n ‘roll – young singles go in, married bourgeoisie goes out.

Love is not enough

… and that leaves us with an interesting question: Why in the 70s did young people abandon Tel Aviv and New York?  Size matters, and those cities were big even then, so what happened?

The answer is that the claim I have presented here is static. The city is more dynamic than that, it stands in competition with other cities. Tel Aviv and New York got older when their economy stopped pouring in money. Sex and Love can’t be the main economy engine for the city as, (Jokes here please), money is not involved.

The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees
Now give me money (that’s what I want)

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