The costs and benefits of long-distance relationships

by on February 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm in Economics | Permalink

From The National Post, the main sources are Tim Harford and yours truly.  Excerpt:

The answer, says Mr. Cowen, lies in the Alchian-Allen Theorem. Developed in 1964 by economists Armen Alchian and William R. Allen, the theorem states that adding a per unit charge to the price of two substitute goods increases the relative consumption of the higher price good.

In layman’s terms, "you don’t take a long trip unless you are going to make it worth your while," he says. Very few people in a long-distance relationship are going to fly across the country just to hang out in sweatpants with their sweetheart.

The result is overblown expectations ("are we having fun now?") and excess pressure on the relationship.  Here is a previous MR post on this topic

Jake February 11, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I am in a long distance relationship, but have so far enjoyed many relaxing weekends sans lobster and champagne with my significant other. Then again, this may be why our relationship is crumbling…

gamblingeconomist February 11, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Looks like they got the theorem wrong. The point is adding a fixed cost to both increases consumption of the higher variable cost good not adding a per unit (variable) cost.

gamblingeconomist February 11, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Third times a charm. I now understand it and have no negative comments for anyone but myself.

krc February 11, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Of course there are costs and benefits associated with long distance relationships; there are costs and benefits associated with everything we choose to do. However, I believe emotions have just as much to do with these relationship decisions as economics. People are deciding how much value they place on being able to travel and see their significant other, and often they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to maintain long distance relationships. They are likely to make financial decisions based on emotional benefits, even if they can’t necessarily afford it.

In addition, trade-offs are a big part of this type of relationship. A person may miss out on a local event with friends, because he has already made travel plans for the weekend that can’t be changed without a financial and/or emotional loss. The ability to be spontaneous is hampered by the need to do extra planning for each meeting.

omkar February 11, 2008 at 9:24 pm

As someone who’s been in a long distance relationship for four years, and got married this year (with the distance part ending soon in June, thankfully), I think that distance can actually be good for a relationship IF both people are committed to making it work. I think this is because being apart makes it harder to communicate – fewer nonverbal cues, less physical affection – so working to get over this can improve the communication in the relationship. Once you’re back together, these better communication skills make for a better relationship than if you were together all along and didn’t put special effort into developing your communication.

gg February 12, 2008 at 11:49 pm

In a relationship you are going to have trade-offs. Whether it’s a local or long distance relationship there are going to be many sacrifices where you are going to lose one thing in order to gain something else. An example for a local relationship from a man’s perspective is say he plans to go out with his spouse to dinner. Instead of going to dinner that night he could have been playing poker with his buddies. The trade-off is not having the fun time with his buddies but instead spending time with his spouse.

Personally I would choose a local relationship over a long relationship just because like the article says it progresses faster than a local one. When I’m in a relationship I want to know if it’s going somewhere or if it just not going to work out. I don’t want to waste my time in a long relationship waiting to find whether its going to work or not. A closer relationship would speed up the process in finding out if the relationship is heading in the right direction.

Anonymous November 27, 2008 at 6:17 am

i love my cousin and best friend

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