How to Design Agent-Based Marriage Market Models: A Review of Current Practices

Part of the Sozialwissenschaftliche Simulationen und die Soziologie der Simulation book series (SSSS)


Over the past decade, the number of studies that rely on agent-based modeling to explore the mechanisms that shape people’s marriage decisions has increased considerably. One reason why this approach has spread is that compared to other methods, agent-based modeling makes it easier to deal with the micro-macro problem that family researchers face: namely, that people’s partnering decisions are guided by their personal preferences, but their ability to realize these preferences is constrained by the social context in which they are embedded; and, at the same time, each marriage and each divorce alters the context in which subsequent decisions take place. This creates complex feedback effects between the micro and macro levels that can be difficult to address with standard tools of analysis. Agent-based modeling makes it possible to study such feedback effects, first by implementing assumptions about people’s preferences and the contexts in which they make their marriage decisions in a formal model; and, subsequently, by studying the interplay of these effects in systematic simulation experiments. However, developing an agent-based model comes with its own challenges. For example, it can be difficult to decide precisely how people’s preferences and behavior should be formally represented. As overcoming these challenges can seem like a daunting task for novice modelers, there is a need to develop guidelines that can aid researchers in creating their own models. In this chapter, I aim to take a first step toward meeting this need. I review and compare the ways in which earlier studies have implemented existing marriage market theories in agent-based models. Based on my findings, I then formulate some guidelines that should make it easier for current and future generations of family scholars to apply agent-based modeling in their own work.


Agent-based modeling marriage markets partner preferences theory formalization simulation experiments 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Becker, Gary S. 1973. A Theory of Marriage: Part I. Journal of Political Economy 81 (4): 813–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, Gary S., Landes, Elisabeth M., and Michael, Robert T. 1977. An Economic Analysis of Marital Instability. Journal of Political Economy 85 (6): 1141–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bijak, Jakub, Hilton, Jason, Silverman, Eric, and Cao, Viet Dung. 2013. Reforging the Wedding Ring: Exploring a Semi-Artificial Model of Population for the United Kingdom with Gaussian Process Emulators. Demographic Research 29: 729–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Billari, Francesco C. 2015. Integrating Macro- and Micro-Level Approaches in the Explanation of Population Change. Population Studies 69 (S1): S11–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Billari, Francesco C, Ongaro, Fausta, and Prskawetz, Alexia. 2003. Introduction: Agent-Based Computational Demography. In Agent-Based Computational Demography: Using Simulation to Improve Our Understanding of Demographic Behaviour, eds. Francesco C Billari and Alexia Prskawetz, 1–17. Heidelberg: Physica Verlag.Google Scholar
  6. Billari, Francesco C, Prskawetz, Alexia, Aparicio Diaz, Belinda, and Fent, Thomas. 2007. The “Wedding-Ring”: An Agent-Based Marriage Model Based on Social Interaction. Demographic Research 17: 59–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boero, Riccardo, and Squazzoni, Flaminio. 2005. Does Empirical Embeddedness Matter? Methodological Issues on Agent-Based Models for Analytical Social Science. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 8 (4): 6.Google Scholar
  8. Buss, David M. 1989. Sex Differences in Human Mate Preferences: Evolutionary Hypotheses Tested in 37 Cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 12 (1): 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buss, David M., and Barnes, Michael. 1986. Preferences in Human Mate Selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (3): 559–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buss, David M., and Schmitt, David P. 1993. Sexual Strategies Theory: An Evolutionary Perspective on Human Mating. Psychological Review 100 (2): 204–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chiappori, Pierre-Andre, and Weiss, Yoram. 2006. Divorce, Remarriage, and Welfare: A General Equilibrium Approach. Journal of the European Economic Association 4 (2–3): 415–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eagly, Alice H, Eastwick, Paul W, and Johannesen-Schmidt, Mary. 2009. Possible Selves in Marital Roles: The Impact of the Anticipated Division of Labor on the Mate Preferences of Women and Men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 35 (4): 403–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Epstein, Brian, and Forber, Patrick. 2013. The Perils of Tweaking: How to Use Macrodata to Set Parameters in Complex Simulation Models. Synthese 190 (2): 203–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Epstein, Joshua M. 2006. Generative Social Science: Studies in Agent-Based Computational Modeling. Princton: Princton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. French, Robert M., and Kus, Elif T. 2008. KAMA: A Temperature-Driven Model of Mate Choice Using Dynamic Partner Representations. Adaptive Behavior 16 (1): 71–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grimm, Volker, Revilla, Eloy, Berger, Uta, Jeltsch, Florian, Mooij, Wolf M., Railsback, Steven F., Thulke, Hans-Hermann, Weiner, Jacob, Wiegand, Thorsten, and DeAngelis, Donald L. 2005. Pattern-Oriented Modeling of Agent-Based Complex Systems: Lessons from Ecology. Science 310 (5750): 987–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grow, André. 2016. Regression Metamodels for Sensitivity Analysis in Agent-Based Computational Demography. In Agent-Based Modelling in Population Studies: Concepts, Methods, and Application, eds. André Grow and Jan Van Bavel, 185–210. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  18. Grow, André, and Van Bavel, Jan. 2015. Assortative Mating and the Reversal of Gender Inequality in Education in Europe: An Agent-Based Model. PLoS ONE 10 (6): e0127806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grow, André, and Van Bavel 2018a. Agent-Based Modeling. In Wiley StatsRef: Statistics Reference Online. John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  20. Grow, André, and Van Bavel 2018b. Agent-Based Modeling of Family Formation and Dissolution. In Analytical Family Demography, ed. Robert Schoen, 125–56. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  21. Grow, André, and Hilton, Jason. 2018. Statistical Emulation. In Wiley StatsRef: Statistics Reference Online. John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  22. Grow, André, Schnor, Christine, and Van Bavel, Jan. 2017. The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and Relative Divorce Risks: A Matter of Alternatives in Partner Choice? Population Studies 71 (S1): S15–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hedström, Peter. 2005. Dissecting the Social. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Hills, Thomas, and Todd, Peter M. 2008. Population Heterogeneity and Individual Differences in an Assortative Agent-Based Marriage and Divorce Model (MADAM) Using Search with Relaxing Expectations. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 11 (4): 5.Google Scholar
  25. Hilton, Jason, and Bijak, Jakub. 2016. Design and Analysis of Demographic Simulations. In Agent-Based Modelling in Population Studies: Concepts, Methods, and Applications, eds. André Grow and Jan Van Bavel, 211–35. Cham: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  26. Hitsch, Günter J., Hortaçsu, Ali, and Ariely, Dan. 2010. Matching and Sorting in Online Dating. American Economic Review 100 (1): 130–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Human Fertility Database. 2017. Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and Vienna Institute of Demography.Google Scholar
  28. Human Mortality Database. 2017. University of California, Berkeley, and Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.Google Scholar
  29. Jager, Wander. 2017. Enhancing the Realism of Simulation (EROS): On Implementing and Developing Psychological Theory in Social Simulation. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 20 (3): 14.Google Scholar
  30. Janssen, Marco A., and Baggio, Jacopo A. 2017. Using Agent-Based Models to Compare Behavioral Theories on Experimental Data: Application for Irrigation Games. Journal of Environmental Psychology 52: 106–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kalick, S. Michael, and Hamilton, Thomas E. 1986. The Matching Hypothesis Reexamined. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51 (4): 673–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kalmijn, Matthijs. 1998. Intermarriage and Homogamy: Causes, Patterns, Trends. Annual Review of Sociology 24: 395–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. KC, Samir, Barakat, Bilal, Goujon, Anne, Skirbekk, Vegard, Sanderson, Warren C., and Lutz, Wolfgang. 2010. Projection of Populations by Level of Educational Attainment, Age, and Sex for 120 Countries for 2005–2050. Demographic Research 22: 383–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kenrick, Douglas T, and Keefe, Richard C. 1992. Age Preferences in Mates Reflect Sex Differences in Human Reproductive Strategies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 15 (1): 75–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Li, Norman P, Bailey, J Michael, Kenrick, Douglas T, and Linsenmeier, Joan A. 2002. The Necessities and Luxuries of Mate Preferences: Testing the Tradeoffs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82 (6): 947–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Li, Norman P, and Kenrick, Douglas T. 2006. Sex Similarities and Differences in Preferences for Short-Term Mates: What, Whether, and Why. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90 (3): 468–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lutz, Wolfgang, Goujon, Anne, KC, Samir, and Sanderson, Warren C. 2007. Reconstruction of Populations by Age, Sex and Level of Educational Attainment for 120 Countries for 1970–2000. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 193–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Macy, Micheal W, and Flache, Andreas. 2009. Social Dynamics from the Bottom up: Agent- Based Models of Social Interaction. In The Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology, eds. Peter Hedström and Peter Bearman, 245–68. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Macy, Micheal W, and Willer, Robb. 2002. From Factors to Actors: Computational Sociology and Agent-Based Modeling. Annual Review of Sociology 28: 143–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McPherson, Miller, Smith-Lovin, Lynn, and Cook, James M. 2001. Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 415–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Muelder, Hannah, and Filatova, Tatiana. 2018. One Theory - Many Formalizations: Testing Different Code Implementations of the Theory of Planned Behaviour in Energy Agent-Based Models. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 21 (4): 5.Google Scholar
  42. Poile, Christopher, and Safayeni, Frank. 2016. Using Computational Modeling for Building Theory: A Double Edged Sword. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 19 (3): 8.Google Scholar
  43. Schlüter, Maja, Baeza, Andres, Dressler, Gunnar, Frank, Karin, Groeneveld, Jürgen, Jager, Wander, Janssen, Marco A., McAllister, Ryan R. J., Müller, Birgit, Orach, Kirill, Schwarz, Nina, and Wijermans, Nanda. 2017. A Framework for Mapping and Comparing Behavioural Theories in Models of Social-Ecological Systems. Ecological Economics 131: 21–35.Google Scholar
  44. Simão, Jorge, and Todd, Peter M. 2002. Modeling Mate Choice in Monogamous Mating Systems with Courtship. Adaptive Behavior 10 (2): 113–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Squazzoni, Flaminio. 2012. Agent-Based Computational Sociology. Chichester: Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  46. Todd, Peter M, Billari, Francesco C, and Simão, Jorge. 2005. Aggregate Age-at-Marriage Patterns from Individual Mate-Search Heuristics. Demography 42 (3): 559–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Todd, Peter M, Hills, Thomas, and Hendrickson, Andrew T. 2013. Modeling Reproductive Decisions with Simple Heuristics. Demographic Research 29: 641–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Van Bavel, Jan, and Grow, André. 2016. Introduction: Agent-Based Modelling as a Tool to Advance Evolutionary Population Theory. In Agent-Based Modelling in Population Studies: Concepts, Methods, and Applications, eds. André Grow and Jan Van Bavel, 3–27. Cham: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  49. Walker, Lyndon, and Davis, Peter. 2013. Modelling “Marriage Markets”: A Population-Scale Implementation and Parameter Test. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 16 (1): 6.Google Scholar
  50. Willekens, Frans. 2010. Family and Household Demography. In Demography - Volume II, ed. Yi Zeng, 86–112. Oxford: Eolss Publishers.Google Scholar
  51. Zentner, Marcel, and Eagly, Alice H. 2015. A Sociocultural Framework for Understanding Partner Preferences of Women and Men: Integration of Concepts and Evidence. European Review of Social Psychology 26 (1): 328–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zentner, Marcel, and Mitura, Klaudia. 2012. Stepping out of the Caveman’s Shadow: Nations’ Gender Gap Predicts Degree of Sex Differentiation in Mate Preferences. Psychological Science 23 (10): 1176–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory for Digital and Computational DemographyMax Planck Institute for Demographic ResearchRostockDeutschland

Personalised recommendations