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In Table 4 we divide men's and women's desirability ratings into quintiles and present the percentages of sent messages for each sending and receiving combination i. If the matching hypothesis is accurate and daters prefer similarly desirable partners, we would expect the diagonal cells to be most represented.


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And if daters temper their vertical preferences by aiming just above themselves, then the cells just below the diagonal should be most represented. For both male and female senders, the evidence lies between the aim-highest and tempered hypotheses.


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The modal category for male and female sent messages is to the highest desirability category, regardless of the sender's desirability level. Indeed, there is some evidence that less desirable women are more likely to aim higher than less desirable men. There is also some evidence that male and female senders in the lower desirability levels vary their sent messages to desirability categories below the highest but for the most part above their own desirability level , perhaps to increase the likelihood of a response.

In sum, this initial analysis showed strong evidence of vertical preferences, with the majority of sent messages going to the most desirable daters in the market. In our next set of analyses we examined this association with a more sophisticated modeling strategy that adjusted for between-person differences in message activity and profile characteristics.

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Coefficient estimates of four multilevel models predicting the ordinal measure of receiver desirability for all sent messages in our sample are listed in Table 5. To ease interpretations of the intercept and interactions, we centered all continuous measures around their global means. In unlisted analyses, we also examined gender interactions with our variables of interest, and found none of these to be significant. The positive coefficient for sender desirability indicates that more desirable daters send messages to more desirable alters, a pattern that could be consistent with desirability homophily and the matching hypothesis.

However, the modest size of this coefficient relative to the intercept and threshold values means that, overall, daters tend to aim higher than themselves. In Figure 3 we help visualize this pattern by plotting the cumulative probabilities of male receiver desirability across the desirability categories of female senders.

Figure 3 demonstrates that female daters are more likely to send messages to more desirable alters than to less desirable alters. However, similar to the results of Table 4 , Figure 3 shows that not all messages are likely to go to the most desirable online daters. Again, patterns of sent messages appeared to fall between the aim-highest and the more tempered models in Figure 1. In sum, these results provide further evidence that senders tend to aim high, regardless of their own desirability. In regard to the message-level covariates, Model 1 suggests that senders are unlikely to change their preferences over time.

The time order coefficient was nonsignificant, meaning that senders aim for partners of similar desirability on their first day as on their last day of sending messages. This provides little evidence for adaptive preferences based on online experiences. The final three covariates of Model 1 compared receiver desirability ratings across the number of times the message was reciprocated. There appears a monotonic negative association between increased message exchange and receiver desirability.

Combined with the vertical-preference finding, the decline in receiver desirability over reciprocated messages suggests increased desirability homophily over time. In Figure 4 we illustrate this association by plotting predicted probabilities of male and female receiver desirability by message reciprocation, net of other factors. The topmost lines in each graph show that the probability of interacting with a more desirable partner decreases over repeated exchanges for both men and women, with the greatest drop occurring after the first reciprocated exchange.

Similarly, the second line shows that the probability of a homophilous dyad increases through repeated exchanges. Note that even over extended exchanges i. Indeed, even though fewer women send messages than men, women who do initiate contacts are more likely to benefit from this initiator advantage because they initially aim at more attractive targets i. At the point when prior research suggests that online dating is likely to move offline i.

Model 2 tested whether dater desirability moderates message-level reciprocity. The positive coefficients for these interactions suggest that the decrease in desirability over repeated exchanges is less pronounced as sender desirability increases. This is not surprising, because receivers should be more likely to reciprocate exchanges with more desirable partners. Model 3 included sender-level profile characteristics in the equation.

The primary purpose of this model was to test the robustness of the previous model estimates with additional covariates. The desirability estimate, however, remained strong and significant, suggesting that this measure also captured unobserved characteristics, such as physical features, cultural knowledge, humor, and intellect, that are related to message sending decisions.

Net of sender characteristics, women are increasingly likely to send messages to more desirable men. The intercept, thresholds, and other parameters are little affected by the introduction of these measures. The final model added profile characteristics at the receiver level. Again, we were primarily interested in whether our primary independent variables were robust to the added covariates.

In Table 6 we present estimates of HGLM models of sender desirability that included covariates for message receiver Level 2 and message level Level 1 covariates. The model estimates and progression paralleled those for receiver desirability presented above. Note that there are more individuals at Level 2 in these models than in the receiver-desirability models because there are more daters who only receive messages than daters who only send messages.

This is consistent with vertical preferences because the most popular online daters should receive messages from less desirable alters. The female coefficient was large and negative, suggesting that women are more likely than men to receive messages from undesirable alters. An unlisted plot of the cumulative probabilities of male sender desirability across female receiver desirability values was the inverse of Figure 3 , with more desirable female daters being more likely than less desirable female daters to receive messages from desirable male senders.

Among the message-level covariates, the reciprocity indicators show the opposite pattern to those in the receiver-desirability models; increases in reciprocated exchanges raise the odds of interacting with more desirable senders. Increased sender desirability over repeated exchanges may counteract the initially low desirability associated with first contacts and increase desirability homophily over time. To examine this, in Figure 5 we plotted predicted probabilities of sender desirability relative to receiver desirability across the reciprocity categories for average women and men. At the same time, the increasing probability of women continuing exchanges with men who are similarly or more desirable than themselves suggests strategic behavior where women choose to continue conversations only with the most desirable men in their pool of suitors.

Note, however, that even when the number of exchanged messages reaches the point where prior research suggests an offline date is likely to occur i. The average male receiver appears to connect with more desirable partners than does the average female receiver, primarily because men receive messages from more desirable women than vice versa. Therefore, when men increase their selectivity through nonreciprocity, they are likely to connect with more desirable women than themselves.

Even though unlikely, it does appear that men who receive messages and create longer exchanges are able to connect with more desirable women. The initiator advantage thus appears primarily applicable to women. Model 2 added cross-level interactions between receiver desirability and the reciprocity indicators. The positive and significant coefficients for these interactions suggest that the likelihood of a repeated exchange with a more desirable sender increases with the receiver's desirability. Finally, Models 3 and 4 tested the robustness of our results by including receiver- and sender-level covariates.

The message-level coefficients of primary interest were somewhat attenuated, but the overall pattern of results and significance levels remained relatively unchanged, suggesting that the reported effects of non reciprocity are robust to measured receiver and sender characteristics.. In this study, we used 6 months of data of heterosexual online daters who were active on a metropolitan dating site to test three primary hypotheses for the ways gender, agency, and preferences come together to shape the prospects of a first date.

Many of our findings are consistent with prior research, but few studies integrate hypotheses as we did, and the initiator advantage proposition is particularly underrepresented in online dating and assortative mating research. One hypothesis focused on vertical preferences. Contrary to the matching hypothesis and the observed homophily among married couples, single women and men—at all levels of attractiveness—primarily sought out the most attractive daters as potential partners.

As found in earlier research Berscheid et al. Why might daters aim high? We argue that online daters actively aspire to date more socially desirable partners and that these vertical aspirations drive initial requests. This interpretation appears inconsistent with the matching hypothesis, which would predict horizontal preferences.

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The matching hypothesis may then be supported if online dating did not dramatically reduce the potential negative consequences of contacting more desirable partners. In other words, compared to offline dating, online dating solicitations may reflect ideal rather than realistic preferences, and the original matching hypothesis may apply only to the latter Walster et al.

This is certainly a possibility and, as we argued at the outset of this article, the reduced fear of rejection increases the appeal of online dating as a means of meeting mates. It is likely that increased access to desirable partners, coupled with low risks of embarrassment, causes online daters to aim higher than they normally would. But even online, daters may temper their fantasies for the sake of eventually achieving a relationship.

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If the goal is to move the relationship offline, daters with unrealistic aspirations would only be delaying the risks of social rejection. Of course, this might be a risk many are willing to take, suggesting a higher failure rate among online daters who meet in person than daters who originally meet offline. Because we did not know each dater's perceptions or propensity for risk, we could not ascertain whether their partner choices were based on ideal or realistic preferences and thus cannot firmly reject the matching hypothesis.

Future research should focus on how ideal goals are tempered by experienced social contexts and the desires of potential partners. We also found evidence of an initiator advantage in online dating exchanges. Individuals who initiate contact are more likely to pair off with a more desirable partner than those who wait to be asked. It is interesting that the fewer women who initiate contacts do qualitatively better in this online dating market than those who do not.

Although the initiator advantage appears clear in our analyses, the proposed mechanism, perceptual anchoring, may be inadequate. The receiver analyses showed that both female and male daters have no difficulty ignoring requests from less desirable suitors. Indeed, women who receive messages that progress to repeated exchanges connect with men equally as desirable as themselves.

For men, these repeated exchanges are with female suitors more desirable than themselves. These patterns do not appear consistent with the idea that daters anchor their preferences to low initial offers. Our analyses of the initiator advantage provides another example of the ways gender and power come together to shape opposite-sex relationships. Although women are as likely to aim high as men, men are far more likely to initiate online exchanges compared to women.

Despite being a new technology used by an educated pool of singles living in a progressive urban area, the differences in how women and men use this technology highlight just how entrenched gendered strategies in intimate relationships remain. Although women who initiate and continue conversations are more likely than men to connect with more attractive partners, women are much less likely to seize the initiator advantage.

In other words, by relying on men to initiate a relationship, women often forego the promise of online dating and are left wondering where all the good men have gone. Women's inaction can become a means by which gender inequality in intimate relationships is maintained and reproduced Baldus, ; Roscigno, An important implication of these findings is that women should not be discouraged from sending messages if they want to contact attractive partners.

The data did not allow us to distinguish these exchanges and, just as in offline dating contexts, online winks may serve as means for women to demonstrate interest with low rejection risk e.

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Our third hypothesis, derived from social exchange theory, related to homophily as a process. We found support for the idea that the population of online couples becomes more homophilous with repeated message exchanges. For both message senders and receivers, the attractiveness gap narrows with increasing message exchanges, particularly at the point of first reciprocation. We would expect this pattern to continue and perhaps get stronger as couples move their relationship offline. Our findings suggest that homophily emerges through an interactive social process.

Considered collectively, these findings provide important insights into the earliest stages of relationship formation. By observing actual search behavior instead of asking daters their partner preferences, unrecognized prejudices and desires were removed, and we captured preferences through actual choices. Moreover, by following dyads through time, we gained insights into the earliest stages of relationship progression and emerging homophily.

These findings comport well with the developing interdisciplinary literature on online dating. Like Hitsch and colleagues a , b , we found that preferences related to attractiveness are vertical, with both women and men seeking more attractive partners. But rather than pit vertical preferences i. In other words, vertical preferences are likely to operate conditionally on a person's specific tastes, nonnegotiable partner traits, and contextual constraints.

What we have identified is a global pattern that is likely shaped by meso- and micro-level contexts. We hope to explore these moderating contexts and subgroup processes in future research. The most significant is that we could not observe relationship outcomes. Our observation of multiple exchanges gives us some clue as to an eventual date, but without message content or follow-up interviews, it remains possible that few of these exchanges resulted in face-to-face meetings.

Although the absence of relationship outcomes might be considered a strong limitation, we argue that our data have the important benefit of illuminating a process that is typically invisible. The pairing and sequencing of initial message exchanges was previously accessible only through direct observation or retrospective surveys. We were able to observe these exchanges and measure their dyadic properties. Moreover, the hypotheses that we advanced were specifically directed at these initial stages.

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By including a message-level variable for the temporal ordering of messages within each dater's message history, we were able to gain leverage on the possibility that online daters change their preferences on the basis of their online experiences. In other words, online partner preferences may be endogenous and updated given changing information Becker, We found little evidence for such updating in the aggregate.

However, because this was not our primary focus, we did not conduct a detailed analysis of within-person preference change. In future analyses, we intend to focus on the temporality of sent and received messages and test whether daters adjust their preferences, outgoing activity, and reciprocated exchanges on the basis of prior online experiences. Future research should also test whether vertical preferences apply to other social contexts and relationships. We were careful to confine our findings to one dating market at one point in time, but we expect similar processes are functioning in other contexts and social networks.

It is axiomatic to sociological theory that individual preferences and tastes are shaped by their social contexts Bourdieu, Thus, in a weak market, an attractive woman may be unable to attract a high-quality partner and thus may have lower standards than expected. Conversely, in a strong market, an individual may have higher than average standards for a potential partner.

By exploring vertical preferences and the initiator advantage in other online dating markets, researchers can begin to determine the role of social context in shaping relationship behaviors. Our data did not permit us to explore same-sex online dating networks, which may show a pattern of results different from those observed above. Rosenfeld and Thomas demonstrated that online dating is extremely influential among singles searching for same-sex partners. Future research should test whether vertical preferences and initiator advantages operate in these online dating markets.

For example, because there are no membership dues for the dating site we used, online daters are never forced to remove their profiles, even if they have been inactive for an extended period. Similarly, profile creation requires minimal information that can be added to, or not, over time. We thus leave it to future research to delve into such constructs and ascertain their impact on gender and messaging behavior.

A final limitation relates to the potential for rater bias in our social desirability measure. Although the large number of ratings almost 2 million evaluations for our sample increases the measure's reliability, the rater characteristics are unknown and may not represent the online dating population. It is comforting that the correlates of our desirability measure are similar to those of prior research.

Future research should test the generalizability of similar desirability ratings and potential differences across time, place, or online dating site. We began this article arguing that online dating removes many of the structural barriers and social sanctions that constrain offline dating. This makes online dating an ideal domain for examining partner preferences and the initial dating contacts based on those preferences. This same logic, however, suggests that offline singles often lack the opportunities to meet desirable partners, or are inhibited by perceived social sanctions.

In real-world contexts, dating may then appear to be based on homophilous preferences because vertical preferences are constrained and only stable couples are observed. This also implies that many daters enter relationships with partners whom, given unlimited options, they do not prefer. As with many decisions, social constraints and the actions of others force daters to lower their aspirations and satisfice rather than maximize.

The dissonance between idealized and realized partnerships may be a destabilizing force in relationships over time, or dissipate as commitment increases and partnerships progress. This project is supported by grants from the W. We thank Rich Felson, Wayne Osgood, and Jennifer Glass for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Author manuscript; available in PMC Apr 1. Kreager , Shannon E.

Find articles by Shannon E. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at J Marriage Fam. Abstract This article explores gendered patterns of online dating and their implications for heterosexual union formation. Online Dating Basics Because we assert that online dating data provide a unique window into early partnering decisions, an overview of this growing dating market is warranted before we present our hypotheses.

Social Desirability and Partner Preferences: Who Seeks Out Whom? Open in a separate window. Three Models of Partner Desirability Preferences. Initiator Advantages in Dating Markets If vertical preferences are the norm, online daters who initiate contacts will send messages to more desirable others.

Homophily as a Process If senders have a preference for more desirable partners, what explains the homogamy typically observed in long-term relationships? Method Data We tested our hypotheses with data from a national online dating company collected over a 6-month period in — in one mid-sized southwestern city. Measures In this study, we defined men's and women's social desirability on the basis of the subjective evaluations of other daters in the market. Attractiveness Ratings of Online Daters.

Profile characteristics Women's ratings of men's desirability z test a Men's ratings of women's desirability Coef. SE Birth year —. Analytical Strategy We tested our hypotheses in three steps. Comparing Sender and Receiver Desirability In Table 4 we divide men's and women's desirability ratings into quintiles and present the percentages of sent messages for each sending and receiving combination i.

Predicting Receiver Desirability In our next set of analyses we examined this association with a more sophisticated modeling strategy that adjusted for between-person differences in message activity and profile characteristics. Predicting Sender Attractiveness In Table 6 we present estimates of HGLM models of sender desirability that included covariates for message receiver Level 2 and message level Level 1 covariates.

Discussion In this study, we used 6 months of data of heterosexual online daters who were active on a metropolitan dating site to test three primary hypotheses for the ways gender, agency, and preferences come together to shape the prospects of a first date. Acknowledgments This project is supported by grants from the W. Why mate choices are not as reciprocal as we assume: The role of personality, flirting and physical attractiveness.

European Journal of Personality. The study of power: Suggestions for an alternative. Canadian Journal of Sociology. A treatise on the family. Physical attractiveness and dating choice: A test of the matching hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. A social critique of the judgment of taste. Statistical methods for comparing regression coefficients between models. American Journal of Sociology.

Curran JP, Lippold S. The effects of physical attraction and attitude similarity on attraction in dating dyads. Sour grapes—Utilitarianism and the genesis of wants. Sen A, Williams B, editors. More mercenary mate selection?

“Where Have All the Good Men Gone?” Gendered Interactions in Online Dating

Comment on Sweeney and Cancian. Journal of Marriage and Family. England P, Thomas RJ. The decline of the date and the rise of the college hook up.

A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Homophily in online dating: When do you like someone like yourself? Galinsky AD, Mussweiler T. First offers as anchors: The role of perspective-taking and negotiator focus. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Racial and ethnic differences in marriage after the birth of a child.

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