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July 4, 2005 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Researchers from the University of Chicago and MIT (PDF file) have analyzed data obtained from an unnamed major online dating service to try to uncover how the online dating market works. Shockingly, they have discovered both sexes care strongly about physical appearance and a woman's choice depends on the income and education of the men. Recent NY Times article about same. Paper authors other papers here.
posted by Fozzie (44 comments total)

 
In other news, researchers have uncovered the disturbing truth that water is wet and the sky, in fact, is blue.
posted by nightchrome at 5:59 PM on July 4, 2005


I'd be interested what the stastics on race, or interracial relationships were.
posted by iamck at 6:07 PM on July 4, 2005


So they discovered exactly what is the perfect profile for a dating website... I urgently need to copy-and-paste study it for purely academic purposes...

Just for the record... do chicks dig zombies?
posted by qvantamon at 6:29 PM on July 4, 2005


Employing University of Chicago undergraduates to grade attractiveness may have been a methodological flaw.
posted by kenko at 6:36 PM on July 4, 2005


do chicks dig zombies?

Dude, you don't need to dig zombies; they're already up and about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:49 PM on July 4, 2005


Undergrads, kenko, undergrads. Not graduate students!
posted by hototogisu at 6:51 PM on July 4, 2005


I only read the times article -- but the interesting conclusion (to me), is that using an "optimal matching" algorithm -- the researchers got the same results as the online-dating-market. I.e. markets are good at what they do.
posted by nads at 7:19 PM on July 4, 2005


SUPERSTAR!:

However, there is a surprising "superstar" effect for men. Those men in the top five percent of ratings receive almost twice as many first contacts as the next five percent; for women, on the other hand, the difference in outcomes is much smaller.

Who says women aren't superficial too?
posted by joedharma at 7:56 PM on July 4, 2005


Ah, the "pool" of people in the dating service could already be self-selected. Meaning the majority of people joining the dating service may already meet the end result of the study. Doesn't mean society is this way, doesn't mean ALL people are this way...just means that the majority of people in the online group can be profiled. Perhaps negatively.

Shocking.
posted by fluffycreature at 7:58 PM on July 4, 2005


I'd be interested what the stastics on race, or interracial relationships were.

iamck: There are a lot of interesting stats about race in the study, for instance:

We found a striking gender difference in this stated preference for ethnicity: 38% of all women, but only 18% of men say that they prefer to meet someone of the same ethnic background as themselves. This stated ethnicity preference also varies across users of different ethnic backgrounds For example, among Caucasians, 48% of all women and 22% of men declare a preference for Caucasian mates. On the other hand, only 25% of black women and 8% of black man declare that they want
to meet only other blacks.


Check out the bottom of page 23 and forward in the study.
posted by joedharma at 8:01 PM on July 4, 2005


[B]oth sexes care strongly about physical appearance and a woman's choice depends on the income and education of the men.

So if a man has lots of money, why should anybody care how he looks? Talk about deficient education....
posted by davy at 8:03 PM on July 4, 2005


Clarification:

I should have noted the the SUPERSTAR comment that at that point the authors are referring exclusively to physical appearance.
posted by joedharma at 8:06 PM on July 4, 2005


davy - can I borrow some money from you?
posted by joedharma at 8:06 PM on July 4, 2005


On page 33 they have correlations of different variables with matching (i.e. income, looks, and education). The correlation coefficient is 4 times larger for looks than education or income.
posted by nads at 8:08 PM on July 4, 2005


nads - can I borow some money from YOU for plastic surgery?
posted by joedharma at 8:11 PM on July 4, 2005


if a man has lots of money, why should anybody care how he looks?
Case in point.
posted by dg at 8:15 PM on July 4, 2005


The graph on Page 38, documenting Looks vs. Replies is very disheartening (for the ugly, or me). For all the crap I've heard from women about how men want big-breasted anorexics -- at least we are linear about it. Women either want you perfect or not at all. Joe, as I'm in negative-income territory here, and probably in more dire need of a make-over than you are, you should be giving me money.
posted by nads at 8:17 PM on July 4, 2005


It's amazing how old news keeps becoming new news. First year psych was... 15 years ago? And we were discussing how looks were responsible, far and away in first place, for choices made by both sexes, while their statements about what they wanted varied across typical gender lines.

Next up: beauty is not all that subjective. Shocking!
posted by dreamsign at 8:27 PM on July 4, 2005


Ladder Theory?
posted by sharksandwich at 8:36 PM on July 4, 2005


fluffycreature: What leads you to believe that? Something in the marketing of the site? Is it the use of photographs? It's always possible, but the study does state this much in the abstract:

We compare the reported demographic characteristics of site users to the characteristics of the population-at-large, and do not find large differences.
posted by raysmj at 8:37 PM on July 4, 2005


Sex for money? Illegal.
Sex for clear expectation of money, goods, services? Legal.
posted by jmccorm at 9:21 PM on July 4, 2005


For all the crap I've heard from women about how men want big-breasted anorexics -- at least we are linear about it. Women either want you perfect or not at all.

I actually think that's backwards. Men have a minimum threshold for looks, below which they generally won't date, but above which doesn't really matter much either (until you start hitting super-hot terrotiry). Women seem to judge on a sliding scale, where every increase (or decrease) in attractiveness matters and is balanced against their assessment of your sense of humor, income, personality, potential for change, etc.
posted by gd779 at 9:44 PM on July 4, 2005


yeah gd, but that response to the top 5% most attractive males isn't linear. The rate is actually DOUBLE the next 5% of men.

I think you have to go to an explanation that has a big biological component. Something from biological anthropology along the lines of women really wanting the seed from those lucky top 5 percenters.
posted by joedharma at 10:19 PM on July 4, 2005


Interesting (to me, at least) is that so much is driven by the apparent attractiveness of the picture of a person on the profile, when the quality of photos varies so widely — even for models you need to take the picture just right. I've seen friends put up any old picture, seemingly taken under florescent lights after an all-night drinking binge, and they look like they should be starring in Romero's next flick.

Thanks for an interesting if depressing link, it convinced me not to date for another six months!
posted by brool at 10:52 PM on July 4, 2005


We found a striking gender difference in this stated preference for ethnicity: 38% of all women, but only 18% of men say that they prefer to meet someone of the same ethnic background as themselves.

Another non-shocking revelation. (Ok, they say 'striking'.)

Women in general are more interested in, and apparently aware of, the long term consequences of 'dating' such as getting pregnant and getting married, in one or another order. For many folks of many ethnicities, marrying within your own group could matter in a number of different ways including religious issues.

Men in general are more interested in the short term consequences of dating, i.e. getting laid. Obviously ethnic variety in this case, could be a distinct attraction.
posted by scheptech at 11:18 PM on July 4, 2005


I wonder if the "women look for the perfect man, men look for a woman period" explanation isn't more sociological than biological.

Women (in American culture), especially in the last 20, 30 years, are being taught not to take crap from their boyfriends/spouses--if he beats you, if he abuses you, drop the bum. The Ring isn't more important than your life and happiness.

But on the other hand, women are still growing up thinking they'll find a Prince Charming, he'll put a ring on their fingers, and they'll ride off into the sunset of matrimonial bliss.

So maybe when you mix "Prince Charming will find you" with "Don't settle for a bastard," you get "Don't settle for anything less than Prince Charming"--which is a pretty twisted message. To fix ya have to drop the "Prince Charming" fantasy and realize that there's a gradient between "heroin-addict who whores you for his habit" and "The Perfect Man", and that true independence is finding a dude on that gradient and learning to forgive mistakes and realize nobody's perfect without martying yourself.

Musings, of course. No data or studies to back this up.
posted by schroedinger at 11:31 PM on July 4, 2005


schroedinger, you have a point, however, it's not one that applies only to women. Being stuck on fantasies, demanding, unrealistic, unforgiving, there's a lot of guys like that too. It's more a matter of personality, rather than gender.

This notion that men are necessarily more easy going and more easily pleased is a bit of a fantasy in itself, isn't it?
posted by funambulist at 2:01 AM on July 5, 2005


fluffycreature: What leads you to believe that?

The online service is self-selected, just like those who ride bikes. I am questioning the part they found no difference in this group from society at large. How is that?

I am skeptical and am thinking the variance is either high, or this data is limited to the online group. I don't see how they can say this is representative of society; that is a sweeping statement that I don't see as possible given this data.
posted by fluffycreature at 3:40 AM on July 5, 2005


fluffycreature: They found the group to be demographically similar to the general adult populations of Boston and San Diego. I wouldn't compare online dating participants to, say, triathlon people or mountain bikers. It's a pretty broad group, as you can grasp just by looking through one of the major sites yourself. One thing most people have in common is that they'd like to find a partner, and online dating seems to have become vastly more socially acceptable.

The only issues here, I was thinking later, would be income and education, given that it costs money to join one of these online dating sites, as well as regular computer access. Sure enough, the researchers state as much--that is, that the online dating site goers are better educated and make more money than the general population of the metro areas. They also state that younger age groups are overrepresented.

Given that the population is limited to Boston and San Deigo, moreover, you can't generalize about the larger U.S. population from this data. So the study is preliminary in nature. Even so, I don't think the self-selection argument is particularly strong one against what they've found.
posted by raysmj at 5:04 AM on July 5, 2005


sharksandwich, regarding the ladder hypothesis:
But how well does the online market work in matching people up? Relative to what, one might ask. It turns out that there is a well-known algorithm, the Gale-Shapley algorithm, that can be used to find an "optimal" matching of partners.

The researchers used the initial e-mail inquiries to determine how the men and women ranked each other as potential partners, and then used the Gale-Shapley algorithm to compute a "stable" matching of men to women. In this context, a "stable" assignment means that there are no two people who would prefer each other to their assigned partner.

The researchers found that the outcome of the Gale-Shapley algorithm was very close to what was actually observed.
posted by grouse at 6:08 AM on July 5, 2005


Shockingly, they have discovered both sexes care strongly about physical appearance

Shockingly? It's shocking that women want a sexy man as much as a guy wants a sexy woman?
posted by agregoli at 7:53 AM on July 5, 2005


raysmj writes "Even so, I don't think the self-selection argument is particularly strong one against what they've found."

I don't know. This assumes that deciding to join an online-dating service is a neutral act, in other words, not really a selection, just another part of finding someone to date. I kind of look at it that way, but I've already used such sites. I know other people whose sense of propriety, privacy, romance etc keeps them from joining such sites. Even if the demographics match with the general populations, there is something instrumental about the approach to dating manifested on such sites. (This is not a criticism, by the way, I think such sites are fine.) So, although I have no stats to back me up, and the study does seem to be well-conducted and designed, I'm not convinced that there aren't confounding factors that they cannot take into account because they do not know about them.
posted by OmieWise at 8:03 AM on July 5, 2005


I didn't say they weren't self-selected, just that I don't see how it's much of an issue. I also presume that some of those going on about their privacy might not be telling the truth--or, in Huck Finn fashion, not necessarily a lie but not the whole truth either. I've had the experience of having someone tell me they wouldn't join a site such as match.com, then finding out the person admittedly went on some highly specialized dating site for a while. This has to do with personality type, however, and not demographics--which includes categories such as race, gender, income, education level, etc., and these are pretty simple to operationalize. Personality type is sticky.
posted by raysmj at 8:31 AM on July 5, 2005


Aside from the beauty and money, what about the find that men who just want to "date" get 42% fewer responses than ones who want a "serious relationship"?

It has always seemed strange to me that someone would want a "serious relationship" straight off the Web meat market. But after reading this I changed my profile -- I mean, I want a s.r., but I would think I'd just want to "date" the person first. But is this study to be understood to mean that women see the men who've chosen "dating" as flakes?
posted by inksyndicate at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2005


The self-selection is definitely an issue, I think. Beyond basic social, cultural and financial factors that'd limit those who join these sites, I find these types are indeed frequented by a certain 'type' of persons. (I've never bothered with them but I've heard plenty of tales of 'em.) Beyond that, the interaction model of these sites strongly suggest a type of 'fire and forget' approach which might indeed enhance surface factors. The 4-1 ratio between looks and education/income is certainly something I've never observed 'in the wild'.
posted by nixerman at 9:56 AM on July 5, 2005


inkysyndicate: But is this study to be understood to mean that women see the men who've chosen "dating" as flakes?

Sort of. Generally, if women see just "dating," they get the impression that you are distinctly not interested in a serious relationship occuring at all, not that you don't want things to be serious from the get-go. That is, you must be a player.
posted by dame at 10:23 AM on July 5, 2005


nexerman: If you polled people, however, you would absolutely use the same demographic categories as variables. I've never heard of a random telephone or in-person survey being done with personality type as a variable, for gosh sakes. How would you know how to look for these people? And how much of a difference would it really make? I'm thinking it's about as much as difference as a presumed failed to find increasing numbers of cell phone users affected presiidential poll results in 2004--which is to say, not much.
posted by raysmj at 11:09 AM on July 5, 2005


Beyond that, the interaction model of these sites strongly suggest a type of 'fire and forget' approach which might indeed enhance surface factors.

The study was of the online dating market, by the way, or more specifically how the online market works. That the sample was demographically similar to the populations in particular markets (who may be more or less dominated by a particular personality "types," however you define that) is interesting, and surely worthy of more study, but the researchers presumably weren't out to prove that their findings can be generalized to a larger U.S. or world population--which they couldn't do regardless of online v. offline issues.
posted by raysmj at 11:19 AM on July 5, 2005


Men will lower their standards considerably for women who willingly and frequently give great blowjobs.
posted by davy at 12:19 PM on July 5, 2005


i was recently perusing a book called Rock Stars Do The Dumbest Things and in there was an unfortunate quote by Jerry Hall about keeping her then-hubbie Mick Jagger under control. Paraphrased, it basically said, as soon as Mick's attentions start to wander, drop everything and immediately give him a blowjob so he will lose interest.

Talk about women rewarding guys for being reckless, helplessly unfaithful, wandering-eyed dogs ;) I suppose the whole rockstar mystique helps, though.

I have a couple of online profiles but all of my dating successes have come from real-life meetings. I have horror stories about dating women online due to womens' profiles tending to be absolute blatant lies about age/weight/looks. I suppose the perception out there is that the "market value" of a woman goes down more significantly with age over 30 and weight over 160ish (depending on height) than with guys, but this is no reason to lie. Also, chatting online says almost nothing about what the in-person chemistry (god, i hate that word as applied to this) will be like. Very important stuff. At best you can find out that you have a few things in common, and then get let down when you realize that you are still just not that attracted to the other person.

That said, a good long-time friend of mine met his wife online (on my suggesting to him to register a profile...)
posted by Lectrick at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2005


Dame: Interesting, thanx.

Here's what I want someone to study: Why do 8 out of 10 women in my Nerve Personals sphere list Jeffrey Eugenides's "Middlesex" as their favorite book? It might be great, it's just kind of Borg-ish and creepy for everyone to like the same thing.
posted by inksyndicate at 1:47 PM on July 5, 2005


I just read that chapter in Freakonomics on a plane this afternoon.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 1:55 PM on July 5, 2005


To me, Middlesex is one of those intellectual coffee-table books, in the sense that it's supposed to be seen lying around your psyche or your conversation--it makes a statement--thereby certifying you worthy of association with others who would admire the same book. Now who starts the ball rolling, as the original arbiter of chick lit-cool? There, ya got me.

It's also intriguing to me, having studied this subject in some detail during the research phase of my book, that people typically list upbeat emotional qualites--like, say, "self-confidence"--before physical qualities as the attributes they most find appealing in members of the opposite sex. But when researchers studied the phenomenon, they found that the "confident" people were also--typically--the good-looking ones. Other studies show that confident people who are good-looking tend to outearn confident people who are, shall we say, JasonAlexanderian, thereby seemingly confirming that the link is more between LOOKS and earning power than between confidence and earning power. But we all want to talk about confidence, because focusing on looks per se sounds so, well, tacky...

(By the way, if you're ugly--even confidently so--don't get arrested in Texas. A 1991 study of 1500 Texas defendants by Chris Downs and Phillip Lyons showed that judges imposed meaningfully harsher sentences on physically unappealing defendants. On the other hand...could it be that physically unappealing people are more likely to commit serious crimes....? Stay tuned...)
posted by journalismpro at 4:12 PM on July 5, 2005


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