The onset of online dating has opened up a world of valuable data to researchers looking to study social patterns and behaviours.
Part of the usefulness of this data is that the behaviour is relatively untainted and honest – the choices and decisions made by dating site users is tracked and can be analysed without the subjects knowing their behaviour is being used as part of a scientific study.
The latest research to use dating site data comes from two professors from Yale and Stanford, who wanted to study whether people form relationships based on shared political values.
The paper, entitled “Political Homophily in Social Relationships: Evidence from Online Dating Behavior” is from Yale University Political Science Professor Gregory A. Huber and Stanford University Graduate School of Business Professor Neil Malhotra.
Previous studies have found that relationships are more politically similar that they would be, if left to chance, but this research aims to answer whether this link is because we prefer people with similar political views, or it is down to other factors, such as social structures.
To find out, the researchers created two studies – in the first, they randomly manipulated the political characteristics of various online dating profiles.
The team then asked 1,000 participants aged 18-35 to evaluate the profiles, and say which they reacted most positively to.
They found that participants “consistently” evaluated profiles more positively when the profile shared their political ideology.
The second study saw the researchers use a large dataset from a “diverse, national” online dating site.
The aim of this was to “understand which factors predict when individuals communicate with other potential dating partners.”
As the team said: “This behavioral measure of social discernment is important because it provides evidence not just of stated preference for political similarity, but also evidence that individuals act on those preferences in real social interactions when they are not being monitored.”
By analysing this behavior, Huber and Malhotra found that people evaluated potential dating partners more favourably, and were more likely to contact them, when they had similar political characteristics.
The research found that men were more likely to message a woman if they shared key political traits, and women were more likely to respond if the men shared these traits.
Analysis found that online pairings where a message was sent and a reply was received were “8 to 10% more similar on ideology and partisanship” and 11% more similar in levels of political interest than all potential pairings.
In conclusion, the researchers said the work finds that people seek politically similar individuals, and that this political sorting takes place at “the earliest stages” of relationship formation, and in an environment where individuals can choose from many possible partners.
Huber and Malhotra said: “People do seem to construct their social lives around politics, and such sorting appears substantively consequential in explaining which relationships form.
“We also find that political homophily is more than the result of restricted partner markets or selecting on other demographic and social characteristics, explanations previous work cannot easily and definitively reject.
“Of continuing importance, this provides direct evidence of social sorting along political lines and may also drive future polarization through the increased homogenization of political beliefs within households and social networks.”
Read the full study here.