Nov 21 / Simcha

Love and Lies: Online Dating

Illustration: Graham Roumieu (NYTimes)

The search for love is on…. online.  In October of 2011, the major dating sites had more than than 593 million (!!) visits in the United States, according to the Internet tracking firm Experian Hitwise.  Of the romantic partnerships formed in the United States between 2007 and 2009, 21 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples met online, according to a study by Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford.

Gerald A. Mendelsohn, a professor in the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley, recently set out to research the realm of online dating, an area on which there had been relatively little data.  His research study, involving more than one million online dating profiles, was partly financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Other data, gathered by academic scholars at Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell, Michigan State, Standford, Duke and Chicago universities, made use of anonymous profile content given to them as a professional courtesy by dating sites, or culled from surveys or in-person interviews with online daters (found through advertisements on campuses, in newspapers and on websites like Craigslist).

Here is some of what these researchers learned:

  • About 81 percent of people misrepresent their height, weight or age in their profiles; the lies they tell, however, tend to be small because, after all, they may eventually meet in person.
  • On average, the women described themselves as 8.5 pounds thinner in their profiles than they really were. Men fibbed by 2 pounds, though they lied by a greater magnitude than women about their height, rounding up a half inch.
  • Women’s profile photographs were on average a year and a half old. Men’s were on average six months old.
  • More than 80 percent of the contacts initiated by white members were to other white members, and only 3 percent to black members. Black members were less rigid: They were 10 times more likely to contact whites than whites were to contact blacks.
  • White more than black, women more than men, and old more than young prefer a same-race partner.
  • Some people indicated that they were willing to date different ethnicities, but they didn’t.
  • Women prefer men who are slightly overweight, while men prefer women who are slightly underweight and who do not tower over them.
  • Women want men who are  tall and wealthy; women have a stronger preference than men do for income over physical attributes.
  • In a study of  2,944 dating profiles, few people were willing to express a political preference or interest in politics.  (Professor McDermott:  “I was personally really shocked.  People were much more likely to say ‘I’m fat’ than ‘I’m a conservative.’ ”)

Notes Coye Cheshire, Associate Professor at the School of Information at Berkeley and researcher of online dating patterns: What people say they want in a mate and what qualities they actually seek don’t tend to correspond.”

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Article adapted from:  Love, Lies and What They Learned, by Stephanie Rosenbloom  (New York Times, November 13, 2011)