Using giant data sets to analyze online dating is fantastic (and fascinating) because it really shines a glaring light on the difference between what people think their preferences are versus what their preferences actually are.
All of the biggest dating websites have done major, guinea pigging studies on their users for -- pardon the pejorative Hot Fuzz connotation here -- the greater good. Sometimes that greater good is the site getting a lot of press which leads to more members and more money. Sometimes the greater good is giving you real, tangible ideas to improve your online dating success. This list is going to focus on the latter.
I dug through tons of studies of online dating data to find the most interesting, helpful and eye-opening results. Here are my 11 favorites...
This was the girl with great personality.
Your personality doesn't matter. OkCupid used to give users the option to rate a person's personality on a scale of one to five and their looks on a scale of one to five. And they found... there was almost a 1:1 correlation between how people rated your attractiveness and your personality. People who got a "1" in attractiveness almost always got a "1" in personality; a "5" in attractiveness almost always meant a "5" in personality.
Now, a cynic would say this shows looks are everything; it doesn't matter what you write on your profile because your personality is worthless. But I'd like to believe it means your looks don't matter and all people care about is your charming personality. The bulk of online daters were raised on Shrek so that could be true, right?
Unfortunately, OkCupid nipped that right in the bud -- they put up a photo of an attractive woman in a bikini (pictured, right) with a blank profile and she wound up in the 99th percentile for personality.
The two most attractive words you can add to your profile are "surfing" and "yoga." Even if you write, "I've never tried surfing but it looks fine and I once sweated my scrotum/Fallopian tubes off in Bikram yoga," apparently that instantly makes you more attractive. If only the guy from Escape (The Pina Colada Song) had known it was more attractive to be INTO yoga in his classified ad than to say he's not into yoga, perhaps he could've actually landed some strange.
It's harder than you'd think for a man to get a response. They say online dating is a numbers game and that game should be subtitled: Ego-crushing masochism (with occasional drinks once in a while). A woman who sends a message to a man has about a 17.5 percent chance of getting a response; a man who sends a message to a woman has about a four percent chance. Taking that a few steps further, a woman would have to send messages to 25 guys to have a 99 percent chance at getting a response. A man would have to send messages to... 114 women.
And that's more of a vicious cycle than it looks like, because men learn they have to basically email like rich, deposed Nigerian princes in order to get a response and women naturally become immediately suspicious and overly picky because they're so flooded with emails.
When you Google "knowledge is sexy," this picture comes up and needed to be shared.
No one's wooed by your master's degree. A lot of "The More You Know" commercials lied to us, because education doesn't make you sexier -- at least not in a vacuum. A labor economist at Stanford found that men with advanced degrees or degrees from prestigious schools didn't see any bump in online dating success. But... if that extra education meant they made more money (and they filled in the field on their profile showing their salary range), then education made a difference. A man making $250,000-a-year was contacted 250 percent more than an identical man making $50,000-a-year.
Beer preference is tied to sex on the first date. There's only one question you can ask that will give you a gauge whether you're going to have sex on the first date. (And somehow, it's not, "Are we going to have sex tonight?") The only question with a statistically significant correlation to first date sex for both genders is... "Do you like the taste of beer?"
Both men and women who like the taste of beer are about 60 percent more likely to consider having sex on the first date.
The study also found that men who say yes to the question, "Could you imagine yourself killing someone?" have an 82 percent chance of wanting to have sex on the first date. No one's hornier than that sociopath demographic.
Men prefer a woman who gets hammered to a woman who doesn't drink. Statistically, a guy would rather have to scoop you up off the curb and gentle nudge your pool of vomit into a sewer with his foot than have a nice, sober conversation with you about a TED talk on the economic value of blowing your nose during a meeting.*
PlentyOfFish.com analyzed 1.8 million messages in 2013 and found that women who say they "drink often" get 10 percent more messages than average... women who "drink socially" get about five percent more messages... and women who don't drink get 24 percent fewer messages than average.
* - probably, but not definitely, a TED talk that does not exist
The race-on-race preferences.
Asian men love Latinas. Qz.com ran the numbers from a Facebook dating app to figure out what races get the highest and lowest response from other races. Some results are stereotypical, some are sad and some are seemingly random. On the "random" note, who knew Asian men loved Latinas? Latina women get the highest response rate from Asian men of any race: 19 percent.
The worst overall response rate is Latina women to black men -- only a 2.6 percent response rate. The best overall response rate is black men to Asian women -- a 26 percent response rate.
The camera flash ages your profile photo by seven years. Take your main profile photo outdoors or in a studio with real lighting. Having someone take your online dating profile photo with the flash on adds seven years. Well, sort of. There's no way this is going to sound good... but basically, the older you are, the less attractive you were rated. So when you use a flash, it makes you uglier -- the same amount of ugly as if you were seven years older. I'm pretty sure NO ONE can read that paragraph and without feeling bad about themselves. And society.
Saying "my cats" is unsexy, saying "cats" is super sexy.Cats are in this weird zone today where people are drool-wipingly obsessed with them on the Internet but still think something might be off if you own a few. Wired.com's analysis of Match.com and OkCupid found "cats" is the 274th most attractive word you can use in your profile, but "my cats" drops down to 766th.
The attractive hair colors for men and women are almost direct opposites. Men and women might disagree on attractive hair colors more than any other superficial trait.
AYI.com found that women with blonde hair, brown hair and red hair get more matches than average; women with black hair and especially silver or gray hair get fewer matches than average. For men, it was almost the direct inverse. Men with silver or gray hair got the most matches above average, and bald men were third. Meanwhile men with brown, blonde, black and red hair got fewer matches than average.
There were a couple of strange exceptions. Missouri is the only U.S. state where men are more attracted to silver hair than any other hair color. And women in New Hampshire and Alaska both like blonde men more than any other hair color. The data also helpfully pointed out that ginger guys will have the most success in Wichita, Kansas.
The three things that determine a long-term future are your feelings on horror movies, adventure travel and leaving it all behind. The questions you need to ask to figure out if you have a future with someone aren't, "Do you want to have kids?" or "Jesus -- guy or more than a guy?" These are the three questions that really get at your compatibility...
Do you like horror movies? Have you ever traveled around another country alone? Wouldn't it be fun to throw it all away and go live on a sailboat?
32 percent of couples agree on their answers for all three, which is 3.7 times the rate of two people coincidentally agreeing. Seeing this, I thought about what my wife and I would say, and I believe we'd agree. Both of our answers would be: No, briefly and no. Although she would say "no" to the sailboat thing because she wouldn't want to leave everything behind and I would say "no" to the sailboat thing because I get so queasy.