Savers are more attractive romantic partners than spenders

Rose on money

Good news, savers! You're more attractive because of your money habits.

At least you're viewed more positively by potential partners looking for a relationship, not a hookup.

That's one finding to come out of academic research by Jenny Olson, a doctoral candidate in marketing at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

The idea for this research came from studies being done in evolutionary psychology "on flashy spending or conspicuous consumption," Olson says.

In animals, this work looks at things like peacocks and their plumage.

In humans, Olson and Scott Rick, her adviser and an assistant professor of marketing, figured that was an equivalent of "flashy sports cars and watches and designer bags."

"This might work for attracting a partner initially," Olson says, "but it's wasteful. Maybe it's more attractive if somebody can afford to signal but chooses not to — shows restraint in their spending."

This is what their initial research bore out.

In an experiment that asked subjects to evaluate dating profiles, savers were deemed the better catches.

On a scale of 1 to 7, potential dates who identified themselves as savers were judged to be a 5 in terms of attractiveness, while those with tendencies toward spending lagged behind at 4.

This backs up what New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber found when he asked eHarmony to research how its members responded to professions of frugality.

Jenny Olson

Jenny Olson

The dating service looked at 30 million matches from July 2010 and discovered that men and women were 25% more likely to be contacted by a potential mate if they touted themselves as savers.

Is this all about money, or do we endow savers with other positive attributes?

Olson and Rick are now studying whether we assume thrifty partners also possess the self-control needed to manage diet and exercise, enhancing their overall physical attractiveness.

Before we start getting a big head, let me say that saving has its limits as an aphrodisiac.

It's certainly viewed as an attractive trait when we're looking for a lasting, committed relationship.

But people out for a fling are more inclined to seek big spenders because savers can also be seen as boring.

"Long-term, savers just win across the board," Olson says. "But a short-term relationship coupled with need for excitement, there spenders actually win out over savers."

She's also studying the next step: What happens when a spender and a saver end up together in a committed relationship?

Initial findings are that savers don't always prevail.

"Pairs tend to follow patterns of the less rational person," she says.

I suspect her research paper on all of this — tentatively titled "A Penny Saved Is a Partner Earned: The Romantic Appeal of Savers" — will get a lot of attention when it's published.