Managing Congestion in Matching Markets

Nick Arnosti, Ramesh Johari, Yash Kanoria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Problem definition: Participants in matching markets face search and screening costs when seeking a match. We study how platform design can reduce the effort required to find a suitable partner. Practical/academic relevance: The success of matching platforms requires designs that minimize search effort and facilitate efficient market clearing. Methodology: We study a game-Theoretic model in which "applicants" and "employers" pay costs to search and screen. An important feature of our model is that both sides may waste effort: Some applications are never screened, and employers screen applicants who may have already matched. We prove existence and uniqueness of equilibrium and characterize welfare for participants on both sides of the market. Results: We identify that the market operates in one of two regimes: It is either screening-limited or application-limited. In screening-limited markets, employer welfare is low, and some employers choose not to participate. This occurs when application costs are low and there are enough employers that most applicants match, implying that many screened applicants are unavailable. In application-limited markets, applicants face a "tragedy of the commons" and send many applications that are never read. The resulting inefficiency is worst when there is a shortage of employers. We show that simple interventions-such as limiting the number of applications that an individual can send, making it more costly to apply, or setting an appropriate market-wide wage-can significantly improve the welfare of agents on one or both sides of the market. Managerial implications: Our results suggest that platforms cannot focus exclusively on attracting participants and making it easy to contact potential match partners. A good user experience requires that participants not waste effort considering possibilities that are unlikely to be available. The operational interventions we study alleviate congestion by ensuring that potential match partners are likely to be available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-636
Number of pages17
JournalManufacturing and Service Operations Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
History: This paper has been accepted for the Manufacturing & Service Operations Management Special Issue on Sharing Economy and Innovative Marketplaces. Funding: Financial support from the National Science Foundation [Grants CMMI-1234955, CMMI-1653477, and CNS-1343253] is gratefully acknowledged. Supplemental Material: The online appendix is available at

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 INFORMS Inst.for Operations Res.and the Management Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • contraction
  • decentralized
  • dynamics
  • equilibrium
  • market design
  • matching markets
  • mean field limit
  • operational interventions
  • search frictions
  • stochastic model


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