American debutante balls have served to introduce elite women to “society” since the 1950s. The tradition began in 18th century Britain, with the idea of matching young women with suitable husbands. Now, there’s an app for that. It’s called the League. Contrary to the Silicon Valley ethos in which the League was conceived, this app is not “disrupting” but rather reinforcing traditional notions of dating and marriage.
The League was inspired by Tinder, which revolutionized the world of dating. From the comfort and convenience of the palm, a user can prowl the local singles scene and arrange a date in minutes — while waiting at the bus stop, in a dull moment in lecture or even at a bar itself (attempting to meet people the old-fashioned way). It is populist by nature: Anyone who has Facebook can join, and all you have to represent yourself is your picture, age and general location.
Some sought a more “curated” experience. At the end of 2014, Stanford GSB alum Amanda Bradford launched a new app called the League, branding itself “Tinder for elites.” She said of its founding: “I saw all these couples forming as soon as we enrolled [at Stanford]…so people thought, ‘Well, Stanford put their approval on me and Stanford put their approval on you, so we should get together.’ We wanted to mimic that digitally.” As the League tweeted, “If you think of Tinder as an all-you-can-drink bar in Cancun, we are a high-end bar where you can’t wear flip-flops.”
Entrance to the “high-end bar” is determined by an algorithm that scans a potential user’s LinkedIn and Facebook, looking for success, ambition and pedigree. As quoted in the Guardian, Bradford explains: “‘Let’s say you didn’t go to college or you went to college that is not known for being a Tier One establishment, that’s okay. But we are going to be expecting you to have accomplished something in your professional career to compensate for that.’” Only three months after its launch, the League had already accumulated a 75,000-person waitlist.
Luxy, another Tinder spinoff, states their goal a little more bluntly: “With the rise of high-speed digital dating, it’s about time somebody introduced a filter to weed out low-income prospects.”
These apps have caused public outrage. Luxy’s CEO has remained anonymous for fear of violent backlash. The League has faced severe criticism across media outlets, rightly dubbed “a dating app for shallow people who deserve each other” by the New York Post.
Saying what the League and Luxy have said aloud sounds bad, but is this really different than how we already date along class lines? The disgust is well-placed — these apps systematically and unabashedly exclude lower classes. But this is nothing new. It is just, for the first time, coded into an app.
There is a classic Stanford myth that 70 percent of Stanford students marry other Stanford students. It turns out that the rate of Stanford inter-marriage is 15-20 percent, but that is still a significant portion. Those of us who don’t marry our direct peers are highly likely to marry people with similar educational backgrounds. Having attended college, in other words, is one of the greatest determinants of whom we marry. More fundamentally, college puts us in a class position to marry.
This is reflected in broader marriage trends. A New York Times analysis of American marriage study concluded that “rich men are marrying rich women, creating doubly rich households for them and their children. And the poor are staying poor and alone.” Underlying this statistic is the fact that the rich are more likely to marry in general. A different New York Times piece reports: “Among 20- to 49-year-old men in 2013, 56 percent of professional, managerial and technical workers were married, compared with 31 percent of service workers, according to the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau.”
We often imagine marriage as an act of free will — we marry for love, not for money! But the League and its counterparts would suggest otherwise: We date and marry to find other people of similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Marriage, in that sense, is not an expression of true love but a means to uphold class structure.
Contact Madeleine Chang at madkc95 ‘at’ stanford.edu.