Highlights of history
Internet daters tend to prey on users who are, on average, 25% more desirable than them, new study finds
It may differ from the way we approach face-to-face dating, experts say
The most popular online date in the study received 1,504 messages in one month
Online daters tend to seek out users who are about 25% “more desirable” than they are – and, from the look of their posts, many are well aware of the “hierarchy,” according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.
The study found that the higher we reach, the longer our messages tend to be – and the less likely we are to receive a message back.
“We have this phrase ‘you are not in my league’. What does it scientifically mean for someone to be out of your league? … How do we know who is in and who is out said study author Elisabeth bruch, associate professor of complex systems and sociology at the University of Michigan.
“Intuitively I expected to find some sort of desirability gap,” she said, “but I was more likely to think 5 or 10%, not 25%. This figure for me was really striking.
The data comes from nearly 187,000 heterosexual dates on a “popular and free online dating service” in New York City, Chicago, Seattle and Boston, according to the study. Researchers did not name the dating service due to a nondisclosure agreement they signed with the company, Bruch said.
By messaging women higher up the ladder, the best men can expect, on average, one in five replies.
“The costs of being ambitious are so low in this context – unlike pursuing partners in person, where rejection really stings”, Eli finkel, professor of psychology and management at Northwestern University, told CNN in an email. Finkel was not involved in the newly published research.
Finkel said this strategy seems “rational” given the low costs of sending a message online. But it can play out very differently in person – at a party, for example – where you can see who’s surrounded by suitors and “redirect your attention to other prospects,” he said.
“In online dating, you can’t tell how much attention someone gets, which means too many of us are looking for too few potential partners – those who [look] attractive in their photographs and profile.
“This is one of the concerns I have long had about online dating,” he added.
Bruch measured “desirability” by looking at the number of messages a user received and the popularity of senders. To rank online daters from least to most desirable, she used the same algorithm that Google’s search engine uses.
Other trends have emerged: the average desirability of a woman begins to decline from the age of 18. Men, on the other hand, peak around the age of 50. In education, for men, more is better. This is not the case for women, whose desirability peaks with an undergraduate degree but takes a hit with postgraduate education – even with age correcting. The race plays a lot in the results, Asian women and white men being the most sought after overall.
What this looks like, in practice, is that “most people receive a handful of messages at most, but a small fraction of the population receives many more,” the researchers wrote.
“Online dating is becoming a problem for… those people – especially women – who find themselves inundated with suitors,” Finkel said. “For them, the process quickly begins to feel like work rather than fun.”
The most popular online date in the dataset? An unidentified 30-year-old woman in New York City who received 1,504 messages in just one month. This represents on average one message every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day.
“It would probably be unheard of offline behavior,” Bruch said. “Online there are many, many more people to send messages to, and there is also potentially the illusion that people who are not really are accessible to you.”
This could increase the hierarchy of internet dating, said Bruch; the most attractive people will get a lot more attention in an app than in a bar.
What about all that effort you’ve put into writing a longer post? It could be wasted energy, the study suggests; the gain was minimal overall.
“It might sound a little demoralizing, but there is a very optimistic take-home message,” Bruch said. “If you’re willing to put in the effort and are comfortable with your low response rate, you can certainly go on and go out with people who are not in your league.
“We can tell you what your odds are [of getting a response] are, and maybe they hover around 10% when you send a message with aspiration. But it is not zero.
According to a 2015 survey According to the Pew Research Center, 15% of American adults say they have used dating apps or websites, including 27% of those aged 18 to 24.
But how does all of that effort – navigation, scanning, and careful writing of posts – go when you meet IRL? (This is “in real life”, for those less familiar with the Internet language.)
“Whether someone is attractive or unattractive in an online dating profile is not particularly helpful in predicting how compatible you will be with that person when you meet face to face,” said Finkel, also. author of “All or nothing marriage. “
Better not to strike someone off based on a ho-hum dating profile, he said.
“I recommend that people spend less time browsing profiles… and more time meeting people for a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.”