Is love a biological response driven by the chemicals in our brain, a social construct that is independent of our biology, or both?
“I have a perspective that love is both of those things,” Marina Adshade, an economics professor and researcher at the University of British Colombia, said during a President’s Lecture Series talk held Thursday at Humber Lakeshore.
“We have a biological response when we meet someone we’re attracted to, which continues to prolong into our relationship, but it has to be a social construct as well because it changes from one place to the next and it changes over time.”
However, the economics of love’s history includes choice and scarcity.
“When it comes to love, we understand the concept of scarcity but what we have a harder time understanding is the concept of choice, the idea that you choose who you fall in love with,” Adshade said.
The UBC academic introduced the topic of marital sorting, meaning marrying people who are similar to ourselves. “People don’t randomly fall in love with people,” she said. “You very rarely see lawyers falling in love with janitors for example,” a choice made based on the tendency to fall in love with people who share similar educational backgrounds.
The story of love transforms from the agricultural revolution, where people married for the purpose of production assuming love would eventually grow, to the industrial revolution that enforced the male breadwinner model of a marriage, where the men were working, women were at home and ‘production’ becomes almost entirely about procreation, the bearing and raising of children.
“Love is not a fixed point, it changes from a place to a place and from one point in time to the next,” Adshade said.
Following the industrial revolution, the Victorian period proposed no expectation for women to love their husbands. This only reinforced the notion of love as a means for procreation.
“A lot of approaches to love and relationships in this period are about duty. You read passages about women loving their husbands in the sense that she respects him, and not really the approach to love that we take today.
“In the past, when people wanted to get married, the way you would find a partner is that you would sit in a parlour and a gentleman would call on you. This is how matches were made. It was based on formal arrangements that took place in the home and was supervised by parents.”
With the turn of the last century, women gained independence as they moved into cities and started getting in contact with men in their workplace and were no longer supervised by their parents. This is when the new arrangement of dating began to unfold.
“In the past, if you met somebody that came in your home, you didn’t buy things, you didn’t go out to have meals, you didn’t go out to the movies, you didn’t to amusement parks,” Adshade said.
“With dating, all of a sudden, relationships are all about consumption, consuming meals and amusement park rides, transferring income from one person to another and just the idea of enjoying things together.”
A study from the 1960’s outlines how our approach to love changes as the second half of the 20th century unfolded. When a thousand university students in the United States were asked, “If a boy (girl) had all the other qualities you desired, would you marry this person if you were not in love with him (her)?”, 76 per cent of women and 33 cent of men said they would marry without love.
But just seven years later, the number dropped dramatically. In 1975, 20 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men said they would marry without love.
“This is due to increasing access to contraceptives, (while) women are investing in education and increasing their attachment to the labour force,” Adshade said.
In another study titled “What men want: Then and now,” men were asked to rank qualities they would look for in a wife. In 1939, men ranked dependable character as the most important quality. However, when the study was repeated in 2008, it was found that men viewed mutual attraction and love as most valuable in a marriage.
When it comes to Millennials, the idea that they completely abandoned the idea of marriage is just a misconception. “People still want to have those types of relationships, but they don’t really see the purpose of coming together and creating a productive household,” Adshade said.
“We’ve had this change of perspective of what love is as people coming together, sharing lives together, consuming goods together, and this has broken down the idea that marriage is about production and what that means is that we’re no longer bound by that arrangement anymore.”
Moving forward, Dr. Adshade sees possibilities beyond what is available to us now.
“We are in a martial revolution because individuals unlike before are actually sitting and thinking to themselves, ‘What kind of marriage do I want to have?’ and this is what never happened in the past,” she said.
In the past few years, there has been a movement towards short terms contracts or no marriage contracts. Questions are raised around polygamy and polyamory — can you love two people at the same time? And if so, then how do we align our values with an institution that prohibits this kind of arrangement from taking place? Others ask, why have an institution of marriage at all?
“These discussions are no longer driven by production, it’s more about love and more about consumption than it ever was before,” Adshade said.
Leo Wong, a post-graduate student in the Entrepreneurial Enterprise program at Humber Lakeshore, said Adshade’s talk has inspired his own project in the program.
“The reason I’m here today is because I want to open an offline dating business, anti-Tinder, where people can actually date and build a long-term relationship, especially for the LGBT community,” he said.
“Dr. Adshade is an engaging speaker and the theories were elegantly presented, she presented a provocative and insightful discussion,” said Edwin Wentworth, a first year student in Humber’s General Arts and Sciences program.
The President’s Lecture Series is initiated by the faculty of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and funded by the Office of the President. Humber President and CEO Chris Whitaker was present for the address.
“The goal of the President’s Lecture Series is to provide a forum for critical discourse that is responsive to the interests of the Humber community,” said Ian Gerrie, chair of the President’s Lecture Series Committee.
Dr. Adshahde is starting a podcast titled, “Unsettled: Exploring life, love and family in a post-marital society.” You can find her on Twitter at @MarinaAdshade.