Friday, 2 August 2013

Love & The Singles Market

Is there an illustration that links being unemployed to being single?  You might like to consider the Beveridge Curve, which is named after the economist William Beveridge - the man responsible for the famous post-war 'Beveridge Report'. The Beveridge Curve graphs the relationship between unemployment and the job vacancy market, where the vertical axis shows the vacancies and the horizontal axis shows unemployment (see picture above). If you look at the diagram, you'll see there is a downward slope when we have higher unemployment and decreased employment vacancies. When we have increased levels of unemployment it means the labour market is inefficient, as jobs are either not being created, or vacancies are not being filled. This, like most markets, is a case of supply and demand. If we see high wages we'll see increased incentive to work but deceased incentive for employers to take on workers. If we see low wages then we'll see increased incentive for employees to take on workers but decreased incentive to work. 

The upshot of the equation is that a healthy labour market occurs when jobseekers and vacancies are closely matched. If the Beveridge Curve shifts outwards, when both job vacancies and unemployment rise simultaneously, then we have a failure to match jobseekers and vacancies - meaning something about the labour market is inefficient, and potential vacancies are not getting filled.

Can we apply The Beveridge Curve to the singles market? The relationship between two single people is similar to the employment market in the sense that each is looking to make a deal with the other; in the employment market it's an asymmetrical deal between those willing to offer their labour and those willing to pay for it - and in the relationship market it's a more symmetrical deal between two single people willing to offer their love, faithfulness and commitment to each other.

Now I haven't done any research on this, but I'm pretty sure that there are more single people in the present time in the UK than at any time in the past fifty or sixty years - and I'm pretty sure we all know why that is (anyone can see how the cultural landscape has changed since the 60's revolution). But by way of analogy to the labour market in The Beveridge Curve, is it the case that jobs (relationships) are not being created, or vacancies (single people) are not being snapped up? A healthy singles market occurs when the number of single men and women are closely matched. But if the romance equivalent of the Beveridge Curve shifts outwards, when single men and single women rise simultaneously then, of course, that doesn't mean an inefficient singles market - it probably means that in this contemporary age a lot more people are happier being single (by happier, I include being preoccupied with other things - studies, job, travel, culture of hedonism, etc).  It used to be the case that single people were stigmatised if they were not in a relationship; that you used to have to be married to have children; and that women's employment rates and career aspirations were significantly less than men.  Things aren't like that anymore - and in a world nowadays that imposes fewer social demands on single people, a lot more people are choosing singledom as a life choice.  

Now don't get me wrong, I think there are quite a few exceptional cases - but my intuitive feeling is that, in the main, being in love is one of the highest fulfilments a human has - and that to not have it involves a degree of emotional absence, and a hunger (however dormant) never fully satisfied.  Far from being uncomfortably yoked with another, being in love actually seems to give one a sense of freedom from the regular constrains of life that accompany the pursuit of fulfilment. This is brilliantly summed up by Alexander Pope…..

"How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said,
Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
Love, free as air at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies."

Although Alexander Pope was a Catholic, his work shows a continual oscillation between Christianity and Deism.  The above quote is taken from his “Eloisa to Abelard”, which is an Ovidian heroic letter inspired by the Parisian Héloïse's illicit love for her teacher Pierre Abélard in about the 12th century. It has brutal undertones, but conveys an important truth that there are “laws which love has made” - and those laws are not formal systems that can be instituted, they are heart laws that tell us how to treat our beloved in the eyes of God, and can be felt and known intuitively if one seeks to adhere to Divine fulfilment.  In actual fact, one suspects that Pope was more sympathetic to Christianity than Deism because in his ‘Essay On Man’ he expresses support for the ways of God to Man by offering vindication in speaking up for God, rather similarly to how Milton did in Paradise Lost, by suggesting that man’s fallen nature in relation to God, and his compulsion to seek his own salvation, are sine qua non.  I suppose this also echoes the dictum from Polonius in Hamlet "To thine own self be true", because that's where the intuitions for love are at their most powerful.

* Beveridge Curve picture courtesy of