What Online Daters Want


Hot or Not? Online dating research shows what people want in a girlfriend or boyfriend.

There’s a major new study about online dating and while you may have not seen the original results (but you can find them here if you fancy), you probably saw it mentioned in The EconomistThe Atlantic or The New York Times.

One of the main points the research paper makes is that women are at their “prime” at 18 years of age and men at 50. Fifty! Jesus. If by “prime” it means they’re at their best regarding making and taking care of babies, I’m a little perplexed because men’s sperm starts losing their steam by that age. Also, at 18, the young woman (girl?) hasn’t even started living. How’s she going to be a good mother if she hasn’t been around the world, made a few mistakes, gotten an education (but not too much as you’ll see later on) and learned some important life lessons?

Perhaps “prime” in this report is more superficial than that. I think it means “attractive to the opposite sex in a caveman/reptile-mind kind of way, where the woman is young and youth equates to fertility and the man is old and has resources put away for a new family.

This is kind of in line with OkCupid’s data a few years ago when it shared that women on its site usually look for men who are a few years older than them, but that this changes the moment women turn 40. Then they want to date men who are a little bit youngerMen on the other hand, according to the same data, just want to date women in their early 20s. Funny? Sad? I don’t know.

Another trait that was mentioned as being an indicator of desirability is education. It is desirable in men but not so much in women. Ideally, a woman will only have an undergraduate degree. Anything above that and her desirability drops. (BTW, this isn’t because more education means older.)

Also, ethnicity is an important demarcation of desirability “with Asian women and white men being the most desirable potential mates” and in The Atlantic article, Elizabeth E. Bruch, the head researcher, discusses race by saying that, according to the data, black women and Asian men rank the lowest in desirability. (This is also what OKCupid saw when it ran the numbers a few years ago.) But why? The answer surprised me: The Atlantic writes, “Bruch said that race and gender stereotypes often get mixed up, with a race acquiring gendered connotations. Asian is coded as female, so that’s why Asian women get so much market power and Asian men get so little. For black men and women, it’s the opposite.”


There’s another dimension to attractiveness and that’s how many messages you get, who you get them from, and how many messages you reply to. It’s “not only about how many people contact you but also about who those people are. If you are contacted by people who are themselves desirable, then you are presumptively more desirable yourself.”

You want to know what the coolest thing is? Overall, the researchers noticed that the majority of online daters were choosing “aspirationally,” which means on average everyone is pursuing a partner who is “roughly 25% more desirable than they themselves are” and, according to The Atlantic, “almost no one messages users less desirable than they are”. We’re all looking for an upgrade! Isn’t that funny?! And not only that but one with a 25% premium. And…the coolest thing is, according to this report, we innately recognise what’s 25% more than us looks like!

But how can you and your future significant other be looking for 25% more? Twenty-five percent more in what?? The report doesn’t say but I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and I think I figured it out. We all have a list of preferences and deal-breakers and some will mirror the traits we have, and others will complement our lack of traits. I think we are focused on the 25% of whatever it is we don’t have.

So, if I have a client whose three deal-breakers are athletic, patient, and speaks English very well, I guess I would find someone who fits the bill but excels in the deal-breaker the client “underperforms” in. Does that make sense? It does to me, but I’ll have to test it out.


SocietyFred Kirby