New Dating Study Reveals Everyone Wants A Partner Who’s Out Of Their League

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Dating out of your league

Online daters aim high when it comes to hooking up and finding love. According to a recent study published in Science Advances, both men and women aspire to date partners who are “out of their league.”

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the Santa Fe Institute analyzed heterosexual dating habits in four major U.S. cities – New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle – using messaging data from a popular unnamed online dating service. The results of the study revealed that singles pursue partners who are, on average, 25% more desirable than themselves.

A person’s desirability was determined in part by the number of initial messages they received. The most popular individual in all four cities was a 30-year-old woman living in New York, who received 1504 messages during the period of observation, equivalent to one message every 30 minutes, day and night, for the full month of the study.

However, desirability is not just about the quantity of people contacting a user - the quality of people also matters. Those who receive messages from highly desirable people are presumably more desirable themselves. To account for this, the researchers looked at the aggregate desirability of those sending the initial messages using PageRank scores.

After calculating desirability scores, the researchers used them to identify the specific characteristics that make a user desirable to other online daters. They found that average desirability varies with age for both men and women, although it varies more strongly for women, and the effects run in opposite directions.

Older women are less desirable, while men become more desirable with age. The average woman’s desirability decreases from the time she is 18 until she is 60. For men, desirability peaks around 50 before declining.

Race and education also play a role. Asian women and white men proved to be the most desirable partners in the four cities studied. Women with an undergraduate degree are considered most attractive. Education is more closely tied to desirability for men, for whom more education is always more desirable.

When it comes to reaching out, the study found that “the most common behavior for both men and women is to contact members of the opposite sex who on average have roughly the same ranking as themselves, suggesting that people are relatively good judges of their own place in the desirability hierarchy.”

“However,” the study continues, “a majority of both sexes tend to contact partners who are more desirable than themselves on average—and hardly any users contact partners who are significantly less desirable.”

Singles switch up their messaging strategies based on their target’s desirability. Both men and women write substantially longer messages to more desirable partners - up to twice as long in some cases - but the amount of words contained in a message does not seem to correlate with the likelihood of a response.

Fortunately, the researchers concluded that dating “out of your league” is not a hopeless cause. Aspirational message sending does appear to work some of the time, if you're willing to put in the effort.

"The chances of receiving a reply from a highly desirable partner may be low, but they remain well above zero, although one will have to work harder, and perhaps also wait longer, to make progress," the study said.

“Even though the response rate is low, our analysis shows that 21 percent of people who engage in this aspirational behavior do get replies from a mate who is out of their league,” adds Elizabeth Bruch, the study’s lead author. “Perseverance pays off.”