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Why Smokers Can't Get a Date

My son told me yesterday that he doesn’t think he will be dating this year since he refuses to date any girl who smokes. He is in grade 7. I wonder if the group of girls that I see collected outside of his school in the morning having one more smoke before the school day begins realize that because of their habit they are missing out on a real catch. I doubt it.

And since here in Paris (where I live at the moment) smoking is so prevalent, these girls may never need to worry that they are limiting their prospects on the dating market just because they started smoking when they were twelve.

Smoking habits do matter on the North American dating market, though, and online daters seem to recognize that. A recent study on lying in dating profiles found that the characteristic that people reported being most dishonest about is their smoking habits.

Unlike other qualities that people might be dishonest about, like adding an inch to their height or taking five pounds off their weight, there are real costs to being in a relationship with a smoker (particularly in terms of health), costs that non-smokers can simply avoid by finding themselves a non-smoking partner.

Smoking is obviously something that cannot be hidden for so long in a relationship and if, at the end of the day, non-smokers only wish to date other non-smokers then smokers are likely to have a much worse outcome on the dating market than non-smokers.

Compared to the dating market for non-smokers the market for smokers is what economists would describe as being “thin”. When markets are thin, there are few buyers and sellers and so it is difficult to achieve an equilibrium in which buyers and sellers can settle on a price at which they both want to trade and few transactions take place.

If the market for smokers is thin, then, smokers are more likely to still be single when the market clears because it will be harder for them to find a partner who has all the qualities that they hoped for in a mate simply because they are searching within a smaller pool of singles than are non-smokers.

And, if they do find a partner, that partner is more likely to fall short of their ideal mate than they would on a market with more participants.

According to the Centre for Disease control 19% of all Americans smoke, so if non-smokers prefer to date other non-smokers then smokers are searching on a dating market that is roughly one quarter of the size of the non-smoking dating market.

And the people operating on an even thinner dating market are well-educated smokers; only 10.5% of men and 8% of women with a college degree smoke.

The marriage data suggests that people do tend to end up with people who have similar smoking habits as themselves. For example, data collected from recently married couples between 1996 and 2007 found that 92% of non-smoking men and 86% of non-smoking women were married to women/men who also did not smoke.

The reason for this last result, that fewer non-smoking women are married to non-smoking men, is a bi-product of the fact that men are more likely to be smokers than are women – 21.5% of men smoke compared to 17% of women.

Probably for the same reason there are far fewer marriages in which a smoking wife is married to a non-smoking husband (only 6.5%) than there are marriages in which a smoking husband is married to a non-smoking wife (11%).

I’m afraid I don’t really have any evidence that smokers are less likely to marry. The data certainly makes it look that way (for example only 17% of married women smoke compared to 22% of never married women) but that evidence doesn’t control for the fact that never married men and women are also more likely to have less education (and that less educated people are more likely to be single).

There is research (cited as a working paper below and whose data I have used here) that shows men who smoke tend to be married to less educated wives than men who do not smoke, which isn’t that surprising given that smoking women are in relatively short supply and less educated women smoke more than do educated women.

There are lots of opportunities for research here for a graduate student who is looking for an interesting project, not only on the probability of marriage for smokers but also on marriage quality and mixed smoking households.

Until that day, I plan to continue to tell my children that if they take up smoking it will make it harder for them to date. Maybe that is just me blowing smoke in their direction but unlike you they (rarely) ask me to cite my sources.

References:

Toma, Catalina L. and Jeffrey T. Hancock and Nicole B. Ellison (2008). “Separating Fact From Fiction: An Examination of Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles” Perspectives Social Psychology Bulletin 34.
DOI: 10.1177/0146167208318067

Chiappori, Pierre-André, Sonia Oreffice and Climent Quintana-Domeque (2010). “Matching with a Handicap: The Case of Smoking in the Marriage Market.” IZA  Discussion Paper No. 5392


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