An Insight Into Gender Differences In Online Dating Behaviour


This is a guest article by Jui Ramaprasad, an Assistant Professor in Information Systems from the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada.

According to American actor and comedian Aziz Ansari in his book Modern Romance, in 2012 “only 12 percent of American women had asked anyone out in the previous year.” His TV show on Netflix, Master of None, has been acknowledged for often reversing the stereotypical gender roles, with male characters expressing emotions that are characterised as “female,” and has pushed us to think about the new reality of technology-mediated dating.

The success of Aziz Ansari’s work is a move in the right direction, but we must admit that some things are slow to change.

Much of the early pre-online dating research on relationships has shown that men and women have different relationship initiation strategies. In particular, men are not only more likely, but have traditionally been expected to make the first move. With the advent and significant growth in online dating, we might expect that these gender differences would be mitigated by technology, i.e. wouldn’t individuals who chose to be at the forefront of the dating revolution show us that these platforms can help us overcome some of these traditional norms in relationship initiation?

My recent research into online dating, with colleagues from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and the Institute of Service Science at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, has revealed interesting and initially somewhat discouraging news: even in online dating, men still overwhelmingly make the first move.

In fact, men are four times more likely to send the first message on the online dating site that we worked with in our research. While women benefit from sending “weak signals” by leaving a footprint when they view profiles of potential partners non-anonymously, men are the ones who more often send strong signals through initiating a conversation by writing the first message. Indeed, conversations initiated by men dominate the actual matches that we observe.

The transition from online dating to mobile dating, through mobile applications ranging from Tinder to Happn, is another shift in how we meet potential partners. With a simple swipe to the left, a Tinder user can eliminate a potential partner in less than a second. My co-authors and I tried to dig a bit deeper into the mobile phenomenon and how it relates to behaviour in online dating. In particular, we were interested in understanding how the impulsivity and ubiquity of access enabled through mobile applications could potentially alter the behaviours we see in “traditional” online dating.

In the first study described above, we found that women are generally more inhibited in viewing and messaging than men are. In this study, we find that this inhibition is reduced when dating on a mobile device. After adopting the mobile application offered by the online dating platform that we worked with, the number of matches initiated by women — i.e. that are a result of the women sending the first message — increased by over 150%.

In our work, we characterise these inhibitions that we observe as social frictions, which largely encompass the social norms associated with gender roles in dating, but also other “frictions” that may make matching less efficient, e.g. the fear of rejection. Underlying our research is the suggestion that technology can help us level the playing field by reducing these frictions.

While our results from our study on mobile application adoption has shown us that this technology might be taking us in the right direction, we continue to examine other technology-enabled features that can advance us even further in breaking down social norms in dating. Stay tuned!

By Jui Ramaprasad

Jui Ramaprasad is an Assistant Professor in Information Systems from the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada.