From Academia: Gender Differences in Online Dating (Literature Review)

A 2016 ResearchGate paper analysed the existing literature on gender differences in online dating, helping to build a holistic picture of how behaviours differ on dating platforms.

Researchers from Technische Universität Darmstadt, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Universität Bern aggregated findings from 69 different articles in the meta-analysis.

The articles they considered were published between 1995 and 2015, 73% were published in scientific journals, 23% were conference papers and the remainder (two articles) were published by the Pew Research Center.

35 of the studies were statistical analyses, 27 were based on surveys, seven were based on interviews, and seven were experiments.

They derived a total of 345 gender-relevant insights from the articles they considered, which they divided into seven thematic groups:

    1. Daters’ Characteristics: characteristics of men and women using dating services.
    1. Motivation: motivational patterns of users.
    1. Preferences: preferences of users with regard to mating.
    1. Disclosure: information shared on the profiles of users.
    1. Misreporting: attributes misrepresented by users.
    1. Interaction: interactions between users via private messaging.
  1. Outcome: offline consequences resulting from online interaction.

Each of these thematic groups were divided into subcategories, and specific behaviours males and females exhibited were described.

Note on interpretation: each individual study only considered a limited number of behaviours – ‘7 studies found…’ indicates that 7 of the 7 studies investigating a specific behaviour found this trend (unless otherwise stated).

Characteristics of Online Daters

  • 10 studies found men used dating sites more, 1 found women used them more, and 2 found no difference.
  • 3 studies found men viewed more profiles
  • 1 study found men’s accounts stay active for longer
  • 1 study found men with accounts visit dating sites more often, while 1 study found no gender difference
  • 2 studies found men had a more positive attitude towards online dating
  • 1 study found women had a more positive attitude than men regarding their sense of agency when using online dating sites
  • Men on dating sites were taller (3 studies) heavier (2 studies), and better educated (2 studies) than men in the general population.
  • Women on dating sites were taller (3 studies) and lighter (2 studies) than women in the general population.

Motivations of Online Daters

    • 3 studies found men were more likely than women to use dating apps for casual sex or short-term dating
  • Similarly, 3 studies found women were more likely than men to use dating apps for long term dating

Preferences of Online Daters

  • 3 studies found women were more open to dating different body types
  • 3 studies found men are more likely to state exact body type preferences. 1 Study found ‘thin’ and ‘toned’ body types were the most popular.
  • 8 studies found physical attractiveness was an important criterion for male daters.
  • 9 studies found men look for younger or same-age partners, while 8 studies found women looked for older partners.
  • “A more detailed investigation suggests that female age preference represents an inverted U-shape function of her own age. Starting with a strict preference for older partners, women broaden their preferred age ranges as they get older and show higher inclination towards homophily when they reach 25 years of age. However, ageing women increasingly prefer younger partners”
  • 4 studies found educational homophily was popular among both genders.

What Information Online Daters Disclose

    • 3 studies found men were more likely to disclose a higher volume of information than women. This information was often status or financially oriented (6 studies).
  • 2 studies found women were more likely to talk about kids in their profiles

Information Often Misrepresented by Daters

    • 5 studies found women were more likely to use enhanced photographs
    • 4 studies found women were more likely to underreport their weight.
  • 4 studies found men were more likely to overstate their height

Online Dating Interactions

    • 9 studies found men were more likely to initiate conversation
    • 6 studies found men received fewer replies than women
  • 6 studies found women can expect ‘a lot’ of reciprocated messaging

Offline Outcomes of Online Dating

  • 2 studies found women had better dating outcomes, 2 studies found men had better dating outcomes, and 2 studies found no gender difference.

The authors note that the findings were mostly consistent with literature from evolutionary psychology. Women adhere to ‘parental investment theory’, which suggests a high status and resource rich male would be able to provide the best environment for raising children, whereas mens prioritisation of physical attractiveness “correspond[s] to their search for female reproduction advantage”.

The study concludes: “Interacting on online dating platforms each party follows its conventional role: Men initiate more contacts, giving women a choice to reciprocate the attention and carry on the interaction”.

Read it here.