This Is What Online Daters Really Want

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What does Netflix have to do with online dating?

No, it's not the fact that spending a lonely Saturday night solo with your Netflix queue makes you think "I should really give online dating another try."

Actually, that might be true too, but that's not the connection we're talking about here. What we're talking about is algorithms. In the same way that Netflix uses an algorithm to recommend movies a user might like by tracking that user's viewing history, online dating sites use a person's contact history to recommend partners with whom they might be more compatible.

Kang Zhao, assistant professor of management sciences in the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, and doctoral student Xi Wang were part of a team that developed a more successful online dating formula. The team used data provided by a popular online dating service. They examined 475,000 initial contacts involving 47,000 users in two US cities over 196-day period.

Out the 28,000 men and 19,000 women studied, men were far more likely to initiate conversations. Men made 80% of the initial contacts, only 25% of which were actually reciprocated. To improve that rate, the researchers developed a model that recommended more suitable contacts based on two factors:

  • A user's tastes (determined by the types of people the user contacted in the past)
  • Attractiveness/unattractiveness (determined by how many of those contacts were returned and how many were not)

As it turns out, the combination of taste and attractiveness do a far better job of predicting the success of a connection than the self-reported information online daters enter into their profiles. Why is that? Some online daters are deliberately misleading while others, Zhao theorizes, simply might not know themselves well enough to identify their real tastes in a partner.

Zhao says the existing model for online dating algorithms leads to a return rate of about 25%, but claims that his team's model could boost that rate to 44%. According to the researchers, their model performs best for males with athletic body types connecting with females with athletic or fit body types. The model also works well for women who indicate they "want many kids" and for users who upload a large number of photos of themselves.

So it looks like you'll have no trouble finding a date for next Saturday night if you're an exercise enthusiast who looks forward to breeding and can't stop uploading selfies to Instagram.