Kathryn's Blog

Internet Dating as Studied by MIT

I published the following piece in my most recent enewsletter *eMAIL to eMATE* October 1, 2006.  It is too full of interesting info to let it pass unnoticed on my blog.  Here goes:

We really know that Internet dating has made it solidly when
academics start studying it. What could be more impressive that
MIT’s Sloan School of Management? Gunter J. Hitsch, Ali
Hortacsu, and Dan Ariely have written “What Makes You Click?—
Mate Preferences and Matching Outcomes in Online Dating,” a
working paper on their study.

At 62 pages long, almost half of which are graphs and charts,
this is not an easy read. And there are formulas: here’s a short
example—Um(m,w)>- vm(m) (not written here exactly right, but
you get the idea).

Lucky you: I’ve managed to digest most of it and pull out what is
really interesting, so here goes. Keep in mind, this study is
reporting on singles’ actual data and behavior—this is not as
things “should be,” but as things “really are.”

The authors used data supplied by an Internet dating company for
22,000 users in the Boston and San Diego area. While they did
not have access to the actual identities of the users, the
researchers did have just about everything else: Profiles,
photos, and preference data, as well as records of who browsed
who, when and if contact was made and reciprocated or not, and if
a meeting was requested or planned. Yikes.

Here are some of the conclusions they reached from their well-
massaged data:

Motivation for using the dating service: Singles interested in a
long term relationship generated the most activity. While 36% of
men and 39% of women declared that a relationship was what they
were looking for, 55% of all emails sent by men were from this
group, and 52% of all emails sent by women. Those “just
looking/curious” (26% of men, 27% of women) did 22% of the
mailing (men) and 21% (women). Only a small percentage of the
email generated was from those seeking casual relationships
or sex: 3.6% for men and 2.8% for women.

The authors thought it was likely that those who indicated they
were “just looking” were actually seriously looking, and
therefore the percentage of emails generated by people looking
seriously was closer to 75%.

Kathryn’s comments: You can probably assume, at least on the
mainstream sites like Match.com and Yahoo! Personals, that
nowadays, most folks posting are seriously looking for a
relationship. Sites like AdultFriendFinder.com have siphoned off
most of those just looking for sex, and AshelyMadison.com and the
like have gotten noticed by married folks looking to cheat.

Demographics: Men dominated the site in both cities: 54.7% in
Boston. 56.1% in San Diego. Age concentration was in the 26-35
year old range. 2/3’s were never married (sounds right, given the
age concentration). Education and income levels were slightly
higher than national averages, but about right for Internet
users. The authors conclude that “during recent years, online
dating has become an accepted and widespread means of partner

Reported physical characteristics: I love this part.

The site asked users to rate their looks on a subjective scale:
19% of men and 24% of women rated themselves having “very good
looks.” 49% of men and 48% of women described themselves as
“above average.” 29% of men and 26% of women described
themselves as “looking like anyone else walking down the street.”
Less that 1% declared themselves “less than average looks.” That
means that 78% of the men and 74% of the women were above average
looking, which is either statistically impossible, or the dating
site attracted only the most attractive people. We do like to
think of ourselves as above average, don’t we?

Women reported they weighed less than the national averages: 6
lbs. less in the 20-29 age group, 18 lbs less in the 30-39 group,
and 20 lbs. less in the 40-49 age group. Either these women
dieted before going on the site or are fibbing. Men reported
weights slightly higher than the national averages.

Men’s reported heights were 1.3 inches above national average,
women’s 1 inch above average.

Kathryn’s comments: Buyer beware! when it comes to an
individual’s self-description of attractiveness and physical
attributes. People have a real tendency to distort or downright
lie. Or maybe they really believe that they are “above average,”
whether you do or not. To do your part, NEVER LIE! It’s big
trouble. See my recent blog posting.

Fascinating tidbits: 71% of men’s and 56% of women’s first
emails did not receive a reply. Men are much more receptive to
first email contacts than women are. The average man can expect
35% of the average women to respond, where the average woman can
expect 60% of the men she contacts to respond. The more
attractive men and women are less likely to respond (are
“pickier”). The least attractive are more likely to write back,
two or three times more likely.

First contacts are usually made by men. Women receive an average
of 11.4 first emails, and men got 2.3. 56.4% of all men in the
sample did not get any first emails at all, with 21.1% of women
never being approached the first time.

Kathryn’ comments: This absolutely validates what I have been
telling my women clients: Men like it when you email them
first!!! Do the picking yourself. You’ll be much more likely to
get what you want!!! And remember, a 30% response rate to first
emails is GOOD!

Guys, if you want the contacts from women, be interested in a
long-term relationship. Men are penalized and receive less
emails if they indicate that they want a casual relationship or
“just sex.” Women however receive 17% MORE first contacts if
they are looking for casual or sex.

Looks: Not surprisingly, the better looking folks got the most
emails. Interestingly, men in the top 5% got about twice as many
contacts from women as the next 5%. The researchers called this
the “superstar effect” and did not observe it with men’s contacts
of women.

Photos count—and I would add, good photos count even more.
Women with photos got at least twice as many emails, and men got
60% more.

Women like tall men: men 6’3” to 6’4” got 65% more emails than
men 5’7” to 5’8”. Women are increasingly penalized the taller
they get.

Men prefer skinny women. Really skinny women. The researchers
used body mass index (BMI) which adjusts weight for height. The
most preferred BMI by women in men is 27. According to the
American Heart Association, a BMI of 27 for men is slightly
overweight. Men however tended to prefer women with a BMI of
about 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds to the
figure of a super model. Women tend to feel they look their best
between BMI’s of 20 and 22. 50 year old women at the 50% of
BMI’s would be about 27.

Hair: Men with red hair had a moderate penalty, while women with
“salt and pepper” hair had a large penalty. Men with “long curly
hair” got 18% less email than men with medium straight hair.

Kathryn’s comments: The ideal guy? 6’3” tall, very attractive,
slightly overweight, with medium length straight brown hair. The
ideal woman? Be between 5’3” and 5’8”, very attractive,
emaciated (How can that thin be attractive??? It would hurt if
you bumped into them.), and have long, straight, blonde hair.
What’s new about that?

Of course, only 15% of men are over six feet tall. And only
around 10% of women have a BMI of 17 or under. (Want to
calculate your BMI and see where you stand compared with other
men or women? Go here. ) Less that 2% of the world population has

blonde hair. Those stats cut out lots and lots of perfectly lovely people.

Are you sure you want to do that?

Tidbit: You can tell the difference between natural and dyed
blonde hair by exposing it to ultraviolet light (bleached hair
will glow, while natural blonde hair will not).

Income: Income strongly effects the dating success of men, while
only having a slight effect for women. In general, the higher a
man’s income, the more first emails he got.

Education and occupations: Women seem to prefer men with similar
educational backgrounds. They also preferred lawyers, fire
fighters, military, and health related professions. Women’s
occupations and education had little influence on first email
results. In fact, most women’s professions did not do as well as

Ethnicity: Overall, 38% of women and 18% of men stated they
preferred mates of their own ethnicity. 49% of Caucasian women
and 22% of Caucasian men preferred Caucasian mates. But only 30%
of black women and 8% of black men stated a preference for the
same ethnicity. The researchers also found that even when the
individual stated that ethnicity did not matter, they behaved as
if it did, showing same ethnicity preference in their email

Kathryn’s comments: Guys, if you can make more money, you can
catch up to other men who may be taller or better looking. The
researchers were actually able to figure out that a man at the
bottom in the looks category could make up for that with an
additional income (on TOP of the assumed $62,500 average) of
$186,000. A man 5’6” tall needs to make $175,000 MORE that
$62,500 to compete equally with a guy 6 feet tall (assuming
everything else being equal). Ethnicity is the most expensive
catch-up: for equal success with a white woman, an African-
American man needs $154,000, Hispanic men $77,000, and Asian men

Women cannot compensate for looks or ethnicity with higher
income. It’s mostly about looks. Sigh.



why would a man with reddish hair receive a moderate penalty ?

Good question.  But you’ll have to ask the folks at MIT.  Kathryn

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