It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man on a dating app will pursue a date with a single word: “hey.” And according to a new study, that may be the best strategy for attracting a partner who is out of your league.
Elizabeth Bruch and Mark Newman at the University of Michigan, US, studied the messaging patterns of 94,478 men and 92,457 women on a free online dating website. The users were located in New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle, all were seeking heterosexual relationships, and their genders were self-identified.
They found that women receive more messages than men, and most of the messages sent on the service go to only a small fraction of users. The most popular person in the study was a 30-year-old woman in New York who received 1504 messages during the month-long study period.
Bruch and Newman ranked each user’s desirability by the number of initial messages they received, which were themselves weighted by the desirability of the person sending them, using the same kind of maths that is used to rank web pages in a Google search.
For men, desirability peaked at around 50 years old, while for women it peaked at 18 and dropped steadily with age. The more education a man had had, the more desirable he was. But with women, an undergraduate degree was the most desirable level of education, and graduate degrees were linked to decreased desirability.
Bruch and Newman saw that people of both genders are fairly self-aware, most commonly contacting others who had roughly the same ranking as their own. But a majority of the users – both male and female – still messaged some people who were out of their league. On average, these attempts to aim high were targetted at people who were 25 per cent more attractive than the user.
When trying their luck with more attractive people, men were more successful in getting a response if they sent less enthusiastic messages. “I remember thinking that this strategy can’t possibly work,” says Bruch. But she found that it does. In all four cities, men experience slightly lower reply rates when they write more positively worded messages, and only men in Seattle saw a payoff to writing longer messages.
“One interpretation is people know where they stand and they’re stretching for someone who’s a little higher on the scale,” says Andrew Fiore, a data scientist at software firm Asana who has previously studied online dating. Alternatively, it could be akin to everybody thinking they’re an above average driver – maybe everyone thinks, ‘I’m a better catch than 75 per cent of people, so these people aren’t out of my league’,” Fiore suggests.
Fiore says aggregate data like that used here can hide the nuances of dating – no matter how desirable they are, someone who is a good match for me may not be a good match for you, he says.
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aap9815
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