Online dating study shows everyone seeks partners ‘out of their league’



A recently published study sought answers to a seemingly unquantifiable question: What does dating “out of your league” really mean?

Published in the journal Science Advances, new research details a “hierarchy of desirability” that attempts to pinpoint the traits that makes a desirable partner out of reach. University of Michigan sociologist and lead author of the study Elizabeth Bruch told The Washington Post:

What would it mean scientifically for someone to be out of your league? There are so many folk theories about dating, and what are the rules of dating, and the strategies people have. It hit us, like ‘oh my God, we can see if this is actually working.’

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The study looked at heterosexuals using online dating apps in four US cities: Boston, Chicago, New York, and Seattle. Researchers took anonymized data — no personal details or messaging content was included — and looked at age, ethnicity, and education to determine what makes desirable people desirable, at least to online daters.

Desirable, in the context of the study, is defined as the number of messages someone receives in an online dating app, as well as the aggregate desirability of those sending the messages.

What they found was mostly predictable, and a little depressing. Both men and women were attracted to potential partners who were, on average, 25 percent more attractive than they were. Men often wrote the first message, and women are less likely to respond than men. The number of words in the message didn’t seem to matter, so whether you’re ripping passages from Nietzsche‘s Beyond Good and Evil, or just shooting over a quick “hey,” it really doesn’t seem to matter — except for in Seattle, where longer messages had a higher chance of getting a response.

Other findings were that women deemed men with a post-graduate education more desirable, while men tended to be about as awful as you’d always imagined. While women seemed to find older men more desirable — men‘s desirability ratings increased until they reached about 50-years-old — men, instead, found younger women more attractive. Women’s desirability ratings peaked at 18, the youngest age possible to join the apps used in the testing, and declined until age 60, where it began to stabilize.

In a world of sixes attempting to snag that coveted seven (or higher), older research suggests maybe it’s better to go against the grain. In a ground-breaking 1988 report, psychologist Alan Feingold found that those who choose mates of a similar physical attractiveness are more likely to stay together over the long term. Although humans tend to seek out partners more attractive than they are, these relationships aren’t nearly as successful, according to 17 studies Feingold looked at for his work.

Maybe “out of your league” really is unquantifiable.

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