A new study has just turned dating into a science: Culling from the data of hundreds of thousands of online dating users, it found a “hierarchy of desirability” in those users’ messaging tactics. It also found that both men and women messaged potential partners who were on average 25 percent more attractive than they were.
Published in the journal Science Advances, the study analyzed heterosexual dating markets in an unnamed “popular, free online dating service” in four major U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, New York and Seattle. User data was anonymous and did not include personal details or message content. Scientists looked at age, ethnicity and education of the users, and they quantified the messages exchanged through the service. Desirability was defined by the number of messages someone received as well as the desirability of the people sending those messages.
The study included only heterosexual users to simplify the analyses, said Elizabeth Bruch, lead author of the study and a sociologist at the University of Michigan. But, Bruch said, the research methods could be used for other groups.
Here are a few key takeaways from the research:
Men wrote more first messages than women did, and women were less likely to respond to a message. Men and women also wrote longer messages to potential dates who were more desirable, the study said.
The number of words in a message did not correlate to response, even when controlled for the desirability gap. In other words, a one-word message (let’s say, “hiiiii”) was just as likely to get a response as a long, agonized line of Pablo Neruda poetry (I want / To do with you what spring does with a cherry tree”). This raises the obvious, if controversial question: Is it better to just say, “Hey”?
Women’s desirability peaked at the youngest age possible to join the dating app — 18 — and declined until age 60. Men’s desirability increased until 50. It is important to note, particularly for everyone who’s not an 18-year-old woman or a middle-aged white man, that the study results were based on averages, and there is a wide range in what people are looking for in a date.
Desirable people got more and longer messages overall. “Even though the probability of getting a response drops with a desirability gap, the response rate is still quite a bit above zero,” Bruch said — a cautiously optimistic argument for reaching out to those out-of-reach matches.