# THE ROOMMATES PROBLEM DISCUSSED

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1 THE ROOMMATES PROBLEM DISCUSSED NATHAN SCHULZ Abstract. The stable roommates problem as originally posed by Gale and Shapley [1] in 1962 involves a single set of even cardinality 2n, each member of which ranks every other member in order of preference. A stable matching is then a partition of this single set into n pairs such that no two unmatched members both prefer each other to their partners under the matching. However, a simple counterexample quickly proves that a stable matching need not exist in the stable roommates problem. In 1984, Irving published an algorithm that determines in polynomial time if a stable matching is possible on a given set, and if so, finds such a matching. However, others have made efforts to redefine the concept of a stable matching, or even reframe the problem altogether to give it new real-world significance. The present paper describes both Irving s algorithm, and look at other reappraisals of this problem. Contents 1. Background 1 2. Irving s Method Pt. I 2 3. Irving s Method Pt. II 3 4. One Economist s Idea 5 References 6 1. Background In their 1962 paper College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage, David Gale and Lloyd Shapley propose the stable marriage problem [1]. The problem concerns n men and n women, each of whom is to marry one partner. Each man and woman ranks each woman and man, respectively, from 1 to n in order of preference. A matching is defined as a set of n disjoint pairs containing one woman and one man each. For convenience sake, we ll refer to the woman s partner in the matching as her husband and the man s partner in the matching his wife. A matching is stable when no woman x prefers a man y to her husband in the present matching where y also prefers x to his present wife. In the paper, Gale and Shapley furnished an algorithm that always provides a stable matching in polynomial time. In the same paper, Gale and Shapley propose the related stable problem (henceforth, simply referred to as the roommates problem ). This problem concerns 2n participants who each rank the other 2n 1 members in order of preference. A matching in this context is just a set of n disjoint pairs of participants. The two participants in a pair will henceforth be referred to as partners in the matching. Date: August 17,

2 2 NATHAN SCHULZ In this problem, a matching is stable when no participants x and y exist who prefer each other to their present partners. However: Proposition 1.1. There need not exist a stable matching in the roommates problem. This is demonstrated with an illustrative counterexample. Proof. Imagine there are four participants, α, β, γ, and δ, where the preference lists are given as: α :β, γ, δ β :γ, α, δ γ :α, β, δ δ :(Unimportant) Then whoever is paired in a room with δ prefers someone in the other room who also prefers them. Therefore, a stable matching cannot always be constructed in the problem. Since there need not exist a stable matching in the roommates problem, there cannot be an algorithm that always constructs a stable matching. This fact has led to variety of reappraisals of this problem. This paper looks at a variety of approaches to the problem, including: (1) Irving s algorithm, which determines in polynomial time if a stable matching is possible on a given set of participants, and if so, finds such a matching, (2) Morrill s approach, which works by redefining the concept of a stable matching, and 2. Irving s Method Pt. I Irving s algorithm breaks down into two distinct phases. The first phase consisting of a sequence of proposals not unlike the algorithms employed in stable marriage problems [2]. Algorithm 2.1 (Phase 1). (1) If x receives a proposal from y, then: (a) x rejects it at once if x already holds a better proposal; (b) x holds it for consideration otherwise, simultaneously rejecting any poorer proposal x currently hold. (2) An individual x proposes to the others in the order in which they appear in x s preference list, stopping when a promise of consideration is received; any subsequent rejection causes x to continue immediately with the sequence of proposals. When this first phase terminates, there are two possibilities: (1) every person holds a proposal (2) one person is rejected by everyone Lemma 2.2. If y rejects x in the proposal sequence described above, then x and y cannot be partners in a stable matching.

3 THE ROOMMATES PROBLEM DISCUSSED 3 Proof. Suppose that of all the rejections involving two participants who are partners in a stable matching, the rejection of x by y is chronologically first. Denote M a stable matching in which x and y are partners. For y to have rejected x, y must have already held or later received a better proposal, denoted by z. But if y prefers z to x, then z must prefer his own partner in M, denoted by w, to y. Therefore, z must have been rejected by w before z proposed to y. But this rejection must have come before y rejected x, which is a contradiction since the rejection of x by y is assumed to be the first. Corollary 2.3. If, at any stage of the proposal process, x proposes to y, then in a stable matching: (1) x cannot have a better partner than y (2) y cannot have a worse partner than x Proof. If x has proposed to y, x has been rejected by everyone higher on their preference list than y, and so by Lemma 2.2 may not have a better partner than y, proving (1). If y and z are partners in a stable matching, and y prefers x to z, then since x prefers y to x s own partner, stability is violated. So (2) is demonstrated by contradiction. An obvious consequence of Lemma 2.2 is that if the first phase of the algorithm terminates with one person x having been rejected by everyone else, then no stable matching exists, as x could have no possible partner. Corollary 2.4. If every person holds a proposal, then we reduce their preference lists as follows: If the first phase of the algorithm terminates with every person holding a proposal, then the preference list of possible partners for y, who holds a proposal from x, can be reduced by deleting from it (1) all those to whom y prefers x; (2) all those who hold a proposal from a person whom they prefer to y. In the resulting lists: (3) y is first on x s list and x is last on y s (4) in general, b appears on a s list iff a appears on b s. Proof. (1) and (2) follow from Corollary 2.3. (3) follows from (1) and (2), and (4) is self-evident. Lemma 2.5. If in the reduced preference lists, every list contains one person, then the lists specify a stable matching. Proof. This is a consequence of Corollary 2.4 part (4). Suppose x prefers y to the sole participant on x s list. Then x was rejected by y, meaning y had obtained a better proposal. The final proposal held by y is from the remaining participant on y s reduced preference list, meaning y prefers this participant to x. Therefore, the matching specified by the reduced preference lists is never unstable. 3. Irving s Method Pt. II In not every case where a stable matching exists are the reduced preferences listed created by the first phase sufficient to denote a matching. We must further reduce the preference lists, making use of an iterative process that will result in either one person running out of people to propose to (in which case no stable

4 4 NATHAN SCHULZ matching exists), or every preference list shrinking to a single person, in which case they specify a stable matching. A set of preference list is said to be completely reduced if: (1) they have been subjected to phase 1 reduction as described in Corollary 2.4, (2) they have been subjected to zero or more phase 2 reductions, as described below. The idea behind the reductions that characterize the second phase of Irving s algorithm is to recognize a cycle a 1,..., a r of distinct participants such where: (1) for i = 1,..., r 1, the second participant in a i s current reduced preference list is the first participant in a i+1 s; henceforth denoted by b i+1. (2) the second participant in a r s current reduced list is the first in a 1 s; henceforth denoted by b 1. We define a 1,..., a r an all-or-nothing cycle relative to the current reduced lists. To find an all-or-nothing cycle, let p 1 be an arbitrary participant whose current reduced list contains more than one participant. Generate the sequences by taking q i = second person in p i s list, and p i+1 = last person in q i s list. We then let a i = p s+i+1 (i = 1, 2,... ), where p s is the first element in the p sequence that is repeated, and define p 1, p 2,..., p s 1 as the cycle s tail. Algorithm 3.1 (Phase 2). The second phase reduction involves a set of reduced lists and a particular all-or-nothing cycle. This phase involves forcing each b 1 to reject the proposal held from a 1, forcing each a 1 to propose to b i+1, the second person in the reduced list. As a result, all successors of a 1 in b i+1 s reduced lists can be deleted (as in Corollary 2.4, and b i+1 can be eliminated from their lists. If a i achieves no better partner than b i+1, then for stability s sake, b i+1 can do no worse than a i. It follows that parts (3) and (4) of Corollary 2.4 apply also to these further reduced lists. The significance of a completely reduced set of preference lists is that if the original problem instance allows for a stable matching, then there is a stable matching in which every participant is partnered by someone on their reduced list. We say that such a matching is contained in the reduced lists. Lemma 3.2. Let a 1,..., a r be an all-or-nothing cycle, and denote b 1 the the first person in a 1 s reduced list. Then: (1) in a stable matching contained in these reduced lists, either a i and b i are partners for all values of i or for no value of i, (2) if there is such a stable matching in which a i and b i are partners, then there is another in which they are not. Proof. Considering subscripts (modulo r), suppose that for a fixed i, a i and b i are partners in a stable matching contained in the reduced lists. Since b i is second on a i 1 s it follows that a i 1 is at least present on b i s reduced list. Additionally, since a i is last on b i s reduced list, it follows that b i prefers a i 1 to a i. Then for stability, a i 1 must be partnered by someone he prefers to b i, and the only qualifying participant in a i 1 s list is b i 1. Repeating this argument shows that a i and b i must be partners for all values of i. We define A = {a 1,..., a r }, B = {b 1,..., b r }. If A union B is non-empty, say a j = b k, then it is impossible for all a i to have their first remaining preference, since b k has has last preference when a k has first. So,

5 THE ROOMMATES PROBLEM DISCUSSED 5 the fact that A union B is non-empty implies that no a i and b i can be partners, so we may as well assume A union B is non-empty. Suppose M is a stable matching in the completely reduced lists, in which a i and b i are partners for all i. Denote M the matching in which each a i is partnered by b i+1, and any person not in A intersect B has the same partner as in M. We claim M is stable. Each participant of B finds a better partner in M from their point of view than the one in M. The only individuals who do worse are the members of A, so any instability in M must involve some a i. If a i prefers a participant y over b i+1, then there are three cases: (1) a i and y were partners in M, in which case, y prefers the new partner, a i 1 to a i. (2) a i prefers y to b i, in which case y is not in a i s reduced list. (3) a i prefers b i to y, in which case y lies between b i and b i+1 in a i s original preference list, but is not in the reduced list. This means y must have obtained a proposal from someone better than a i, so x must prefer the partner in M to a i. Corollary 3.3. If the original problem instance allows for a stable matching, then there is a stable matching contained in a completely reduced set of preference lists. Corollary 3.4. If one or more among a reduced set of preference lists is empty, then the original problem instance admits no stable matching. The last lemma delineates the circumstances under which a stable matching can be created following Irving s method. Lemma 3.5. If in a completely reduced set of preference lists, every list contains just one person, then the lists specify a stable matching. Proof. This is as a consequence of Corollary 2.4 (4). Suppose that y prefers x to the participant left on y s list. Then, like in the case (2) in the second part of Lemma 3.2, we demonstrate that x must prefer the participant remaining on x s list. Therefore, no instability is admitted. 4. One Economist s Idea The paper The Roommates Problem Revisited, authored by economist Morrill in 2007 provides a new look at the roommates problem. In the paper he quickly acknowledges the real-life problem posed by the fact that a stable matching need not always exist in the roommates problem. Morrill addresses some practical concerns overlooked by the original definition of stability, stating: the traditional notion of stability ignores the key physical constraint that roommates require a room, and it is therefore too restrictive, [3]. According to Morrill, the best way to approach this problem on a practical level employs the concept of Pareto efficiency. Definition 4.1. In the context of the roommates problem, a Pareto improvement on a matching is a re-pairing of the inhabitants of two or more rooms that doesn t come at the expense of any participants involved. A matching is said to be Pareto efficient if no further Pareto improvements can be made. Proposition 4.2. For any set of participants there exists a Pareto efficient matching.

6 6 NATHAN SCHULZ Proof. Assign each participant a priority. Then, in order of priority, ask each participant who they would like to be paired with. Then pair those participants. Continue down the prioritized list until every participant is paired. It then is easy to show that this matching is Pareto efficient. The author then describes an algorithm whereby successive changes can be applied to any status quo matching to result in a Pareto efficient matching in O(n 3 ) time [3]. Though Proof 4 gives an easy method for obtaining a Pareto efficient matching, Morrill s method has its advantages. From a practical perspective, we notice differences in the proved method of re-matching everyone using a prioritized list versus the incremental changes of Morrill s algorithm. Morrill s approach upsets a given status quo less than the total re-matching of the method proven above. References [1] D. Gale and L.S. Shapley: College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage, American Mathematical Monthly 69, 9-14, [2] Robert W. Irving. An Efficient Algorithm for the Stable Roommates Problem. Academic Press Inc [3] Thayer Morrill. The Roommates Problem Revisited. University of Maryland

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