x + y = perfect marriage


Math says my boyfriend and I are incompatible. Actually, it probably says you and your significant other are incompatible, too.

In fact, according to one study, if you’re a UTM student right now, it’s highly unlikely that your perfect match is a student here, too. If you’re a heterosexual male, the perfect woman for you might walk the halls of this campus five years from now. (She’ll also go on to earn a higher level of education than you.)

That example might sound a little weird, but it’s based on results from a statistical study that claims to have found the formula for the perfect marriage. Researchers from the Geneva School of Business studied 1,534 couples in Switzerland between the ages of 18 and 75. Some test subjects were Swiss and some were not. The team looked at the couples in 1999, and then caught up with them again in 2006 to check how many of them were divorced, separated, broken up, or simply unhappy in their relationships. They took the data they gathered and used some fancy math to match hypothetical men and women based on four criteria: age, education, cultural background, and previous marriages. Their calculations produced a best-case couple and a worst-case couple.

The best-case couple had similar cultural backgrounds and no previous divorces, but not much else in common. The woman was at least five years younger than the man. She also had a higher degree of education than him.

On the other hand, in the worst-case couple, each partner came from a different cultural background and both had little education. The man was two to three years older than the woman and a divorcé.

The model seems a little difficult to emulate, at least in our circumstances, and examples are hard to find. In an article on the topic in The Telegraph, a writer jokes that the only couple he can think of that follows this formula is the Queen and her husband.

Still, the researchers make an interesting argument. They say we should use the results to “optimize romantic matches”. Yes, the phrase sounds like something Sheldon Cooper would say—it seems a little too sterile for a discussion about romance and “living happily ever after”. But in the conclusion of their report, the mathematicians remind us that, until recently, family and community set up marriages. The idea of choosing your own romantic partner is still relatively new.

But, the researchers say, even now things are changing again. There are new restrictions. You can’t have a romantic relationship with someone you work with. Or you might live in a small community and want to search for a partner outside that community.

And life is getting more complicated. It’s becoming harder and harder to meet someone in your daily life, so we built online dating sites. The mathematicians propose that online dating sites use the formula from this study as part of their matching process.

And why not? An interesting publication called Psychological Science in the Public Interest just published an article this year explaining how the current algorithms for online dating sites are questionable. The researchers of the online dating problem point to a fundamental problem with online dating services: they ask users to describe their ideal match. Actually, the researchers say, we don’t often know what we want. And studies on speed dating prove that. Apparently, when test subjects were asked to describe their ideal matches and then set loose to speed-date, they ended up being attracted to people that did not fit their initial description for an ideal match.

So scientists and mathematicians are basically telling us that not only do we not know what we want, we also don’t know what’s good for us.

Guys, I wouldn’t suggest seeking out 17-year-olds, but if you’re looking for the “optimal romantic match”, the age, education, and cultural background criteria are definitely something to think about.