From Academia: ‘Aspirational Pursuit’ of Mates in Online Dating

2018 research published in the journal Science Advances has used online dating data to explore the idea of a ‘market’ of singles.

The authors argue “the detailed structure and dynamics of dating markets have historically been difficult to quantify for lack of suitable data”, and suggest that online platforms provide a new resource for science in the space.

There are two competing hypotheses for how couples meet one another in a social space. One suggests people pursue partners of a similar attractiveness to themselves, while another suggests people try to ‘date up’.

In the latter hypothesis, the most attractive singles match up first, followed by the next most attractive and so on. Both explanations can account for couples being a similar level of attractiveness, therefore, which is a well established finding.

The idea that people try to ‘date up’ could be evidenced by a lot of aspirational swipes / interactions on a dating app, while the idea that people date at their own level of attractiveness would be evidenced by an interest in those singles (and avoidance of more attractive people).

Previous literature has suggested that: “with respect to attributes such as physical attractiveness and income, people tend to pursue the most attractive partners, while for other attributes, such as race/ethnicity or education, the overwhelming tendency is to seek out someone similar. Thus, people compete on some attributes and match on others.”

The study looked at dating behaviour in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle among heterosexual singles.

It found the most common behaviour was for users to open a conversation with someone at the same level of desirability as themselves.

The distributions around the mode, however, were skewed to the right – singles would ‘try their luck’ with opening messages more often than they would ‘date down’.

Men and women tend to message singles to are around 25% more attractive than they are on a ranking by profile popularity.

The study concludes that singles use a ‘hybrid strategy’ – dating up, but with an awareness of their own level of attractiveness.

Read more here.

Scott Harvey

Scott is the Editor of Global Dating Insights. Raised in Dorset, he holds a BA from The University of Nottingham and an MSc from Lund University School of Economics and Management. Previously he has written about politics, economics and technology for various online publications.

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