The OkCupid Blog has come out with a new piece of research on online dating habits, and it’s really interesting.
The study examines the relationship between gender and taking the initiative in dating. After looking through messaging data on their online dating site, OkCupid analysts came to the conclusion that, in online dating, women who message men first tend to date much more attractive guys.
But they also completely ignore another, way more interesting observations – that women seem to prefer dating less attractive guys who make the first move, rather than more attractive guys who are passive.
Let me explain.
In case you don’t know, OkCupid research is probably the worlds best source of real evidence on people’s dating behavior. While most dating research is done in a laboratory, asking men and women to fill out surveys about their preferences (despite the fact that stated preferences are shown to be unreliable), the OKCupid blog actually bases their research on the real life behaviors of their user base (i.e. their revealed preferences).
Because of this, OkCupid research is able to publish some extremely interesting research on things like race and dating, how sexual habits have changed, or how the words in your profile correlate with your preference for rough sex. This is all practical, interesting research that universities won’t touch with a 10 foot pole.
In short, exactly the kind of research I love to learn about, be cause it’s based on real life interactions and not abstract theories.
You’re probably not surprised to learn that straight men send a lot more first messages to women on OkCupid than vice versa. Here’s the graph from OkCupid that shows the breakdown of first messages by gender and orientation:
This led to the obvious question: Why are straight women less likely to spark a conversation?
One possibility was that women are less likely to spark a conversation because they are getting TONS of messages from guys, and don’t need to take the initiative
But if this were the case, then women who get fewer messages would be more likely to take the initiative, while the women who get lots of messages would be less likely to send out a first message to a guy she liked. So they looked at the data to see if there was a correlation between messages received and messages sent for women.
And the result?
The hypothesis was blown out of the water. Turns out no matter how much attention a woman is getting from guys on OkCupid, they still don’t take the initiative. Meanwhile, guys who sent more messages, got more messages – i.e. there is a strong correlation between effort and result, at least when it comes to getting replies.
It’s hard to overstate the gender difference observed in the graph – women, whether attractive or not, whether their profile is intimidating or friendly, almost NEVER send the first message.
So then the OkCupid bloggers asked the question: What are the consequences of this passive behaviour?
Here’s what they found:
…Men are reaching out to women 17 percentile points more attractive, and women contact men who are 10 percentile points more attractive. This means that if a woman does nothing, her inbox will be filled with less attractive men.
Which leads to this graph:
The OkCupid blog post ends with the following conclusion:
…[Women], if you typically wait to be approached, you could elevate your game by about 12 percent points just by sending the first message.
If you’re a woman on OkCupid, you’re at an incredible advantage. You should message men you find attractive — not just because they’re easy on the eye, but because you’re more likely to have something to talk about. You’ll increase your quantity of quality. As for men, it’s worth noting that they’ll probably enjoy getting more messages.
OkCupid misses the point here: Yes, women can probably improve the attractiveness of their dates by reaching out to men, but OkCupid makes a mistake here – they presume that women are dumb, and must be oblivious to the fact that they can meet hotter guys online if they make the first move (a fact that men apparently discovered some time ago).
But what if we presume that women are actually smart, and understand the consequences of their actions? Let’s presume they know that there are hot guys on dating sites that they can message.
But they still don’t do it.
If this is true (and it is), then the study has drawn completely the wrong conclusions, and what they have found is:
Women on OkCupid seem to PREFER to date less attractive men who message them, over more attractive men who are passive.
Now THAT is an interesting observation….
If you want to know why this is the case, it all boils down to the nature of female attraction, and the fact that they desire to be desired. I explain this more here.
Original OkCupid research blog post is here.