Average-looking men have the advantage when it comes to online dating, says Oxford University study


When it comes to online dating, men who rate themselves as 5/10 in looks receive the same number of messages as those who rate themselves as a 10.

That’s according to a major new study by the University of Oxford which analysed the online dating behaviour of over 150,000 eharmony singles to mark our tenth anniversary in the UK.

The research showed that men who award themselves 5/10 in response to questions about their attractiveness levels receive an equal amount of interest from women as those who rate themselves a perfect 10.  This clearly demonstrates that average-looking men are likely to enjoy considerable success in online dating environments.

However, women are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to looks, with those who rate themselves as an 8/10 receiving significantly more interest than those who rate themselves average.

This paradox clearly shows that despite the progressive growth in online dating over the last decade, traditional gender roles persist.

In fact, the number of men initiating conversations on eharmony has increased, from 6% in 2008 to 30% in 2018. What’s more, when women do make the first move, they receive 15% less communication than men.

The confidence game

The data clearly shows that men are more confident in their pursuit of dating and relationships, and place more importance on looks. So, what does this all mean? Should we be worried that men are too picky?

A quick poll of single male friends reveals a somewhat different perspective. It’s not so much that men are after air-brushed beauty. They’re just willing to cast their nets wider – in other words, they will commonly aim for women ‘out of their league’.

This may be because they’ve been conditioned at a societal level to be robust pursuers, and are more willing to accept knock backs or a lack of responses than their female counterparts.

Love and money

What’s more, the study shows that women too, can be rather old fashioned. For example, women consider a partner’s salary 30% more important than men, though the importance of this trend has changed over time in line with increased financial equality.

Of course, the plausible reason behind this finding is the tendency for women of child-bearing age to seek partners who can provide financial security. (Shorthand – they potentially want families.)

Researchers also explored which variables could predict ‘success’ in online dating and found it pays to be kind with ‘altruism’ a much sought-after trait for both sexes. For men, displaying more photos also increases the likelihood of receiving messages, as does scoring highly on athleticism and agreeableness.

For women, being athletic is the strongest predictor of online success, alongside being romantic. Over indexing as anxious – or regrettably, clever – decreases the likelihood of women receiving messages.

And if you’re guilty of posting semi-naked pictures on your dating profile beware – the research found both men and women are turned off by overtly sexualised personalities. Indeed, subtlety may be the key when it comes to expressing physical passion online.

Cross-cultural dating trends

On an upbeat front, online daters are becoming more progressive in terms of inter-cultural dating and their willingness to bridge religious and class differences.

But singles remain split over whether they will tolerate prospective partners smoking (58% Not Important, 40% Very Important). Both genders are also less concerned with whether prospective partners drink alcohol than they were ten years ago (77% Not Important to Somewhat Not Important in 2018 as opposed to 30% in 2008).

Commenting on the findings, Professor of Computational Social Science at the University of Oxford Internet Institute, Taha Yasseri states: “This opportunity to revisit our relationship with eharmony after helping them launch in the UK a decade ago has produced fascinating results on both a micro and macro level. On an individual basis, it indicates that people have become much more tolerant. Factors including income, culture and religious orientation are all now less important in the overall search for a partner. However, this increased openness hasn’t yet scaled up on a societal level, with marked gender inequalities focused on physical attractiveness and male-led communication still apparent.”

eharmony UK Country Manager Romain Bertrand adds: “This study sheds light on how communication patterns and preferences have shifted among our members. It demonstrates that while we’ve become far more progressive in terms of dating people from differing religions, cultures and social stratas, traditional gender roles still persist.

“Men still make the first move online and they tend to have far more confidence about approaching women with high levels of self-rated attractiveness. We hope as society evolves further in the coming years that women feel equally empowered to exercise the same choices around dating and relationships, if they so choose.”

See the full report from the University of Oxford here

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