University of Oxford Study Finds Gender Stereotypes Are Alive And Well In Online Dating

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Online dating revolutionized the way we meet and is seen worldwide as a modern approach to finding love - but according to a recent study from the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute (OII), the experience of online dating is not nearly as progressive as the technology is.

Researchers at the OII analyzed 10 years of eHarmony UK user data to find out how gender norms and social attitudes have evolved over the last decade. The study, Computational Courtship: Understanding the Evolution of Online Dating through Large-scale Data Analysis, reveals their surprising conclusion: little has changed, and what has is not for the better.

Traditional gender roles continue to dictate how men and women connect online. The study found that men are 30 percent more likely than women to initiate conversation on a dating service. The number has actually increased over time, from six percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2018. When women do initiate, the response rate drops by 15 percent.

The researchers also looked at what makes someone more likely to receive a message. Women are often evaluated on physical characteristics, like their age and athleticism, while men are judged on their agreeableness and altruism in addition to their athleticism. In fact, the study found that “average” looking men receive the most messages from women.

Straight women are more likely to message men who rate their own attractiveness at 5/10 than men who believe they’re a 10/10. This may be because average men are perceived as being more faithful and reliable. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to contact women with a self-rated attractiveness score of 8 or 9 out of 10.

Why doesn’t everyone shoot for solid 10s?

"They might think that they have little chance in relation to those people compared to someone who is good looking but not 10/10,” explained Taha Yasseri, professor of computational social science at the OII. "It also has to do with the self-esteem of the person who is checking the profile. They might think 'I am not that good looking, and if I take someone who is much better than me, I might have issues, I might be a bit worried about the faithfulness of my partner'."

Men also benefit from being seen as clever, while being perceived as clever decreases a woman’s chance of success. Straight women are more likely to evaluate potential male partners based on their income, although over time, singles are becoming increasingly open to dating people with a different financial, educational, or religious background.

Romain Bertrand, UK country manager at eharmony said: "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."