Dating in a Downturn

In yesterday's Washington Post, Tara Bahrampour filed a dispatch on dating in an economic downturn.

From investment bankers to real estate developers to construction workers, no job means no buying rounds of $15 martinis for a pretty woman and her girlfriends. No hosting parties in the bachelor loft. And often, no idea how to present one's new self on the dating market.

"It's been incredibly stressful for me," said Neil Welsh, 27, the guy in the suit, who until last year was marketing director for a booming real estate company. "I was so used to using my financial situation to leverage my dating."

Like so many Americans, Welsh is now going through the painful process of deleveraging. One wonders if Welsh should, along with other men in dire dating straits, be nationalized. The feds would assemble a crack team of cut-rate stylists -- staffers and producers laid off from the late and lamented Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, perhaps -- to separate Welsh from his "toxic assets," which would then be aggregated in a single "cad bank" who could then be dispatched to enemy nations to pester and bore and otherwise displease women. I fear that the retaliation would be swift and severe: various Axis of Evil lotharios, armed with copies of Neil Strauss's The Game, would be sent to wreak havoc in our own discotheques, ending nightlife as we know it.

Both articles suggest that the dating landscape in big American cities remains curiously retrograde, with men serving first and foremost as providers. To some extent, this must reflect the fact that women remain clustered in less remunerative professions. In highly-educated circles, for example, young women are overrepresented in media and, as Laura Holson observed in the Times, auction houses.

Art professionals said that Ivy Leaguers with master's degrees typically earn $19,000 for a junior position to $50,000 for a midlevel specialist at an auction house, perhaps a fifth of what peers make working in law or banking.

Yet art professionals travel in the same social circles as women and men in law and banking, and the art professional dating a banker is a longstanding cliché. David Brooks described this phenomenon memorably in an essay on "New-Class Nuptials."

We can break this elite down into two large classes: predators and nurturers. Predators are the lawyers, traders, marketers--the folks who deal with money or who spend their professional lives negotiating or competing or otherwise being tough and screwing others. Nurturers tend to be liberal-arts majors. They become academics, foundation officials, writers, and artists--the people who deal with information and ideas or who spend their time cooperating with others or facilitating something.


Some 34 percent of the cases are mixed marriages, in which a predator marries a nurturer. In this group the predator is almost always the groom. For example, Patrick Kaye, who graduated from Duke and received an MBA from the University of Chicago, is a financial consultant with CFX Inc. He is marrying Lori McKenna, who received a master's degree in social work from Columbia and now teaches fourth grade at the Authors' Workshop School, an alternative public school in the Bronx. One wonders how such interfaith marriages work out.

But of course this is the classical scenario, at least in part, of marriage as a production partnership. The predator-nurturer union conforms to our understanding of assortative mating -- same level of education, similar households and sensibilities, etc. -- yet there is a division of labor when it comes to dealing with the market.

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Reihan Salam is a policy advisor at Economics 21, a columnist for The Daily, and a blogger for National Review Online.

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