Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

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

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

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

Article excerpt

The tendency for spouses to resemble each other across a variety of valued social characteris- tics, including income, education, and health, is a strong and consistent finding among het- erosexual married Americans (Kalmijn, 1991; Schwartz & Mare, 2005). This homogamy is of central concern for family and stratifica- tion scholars because of its importance for intergroup social distance, inequality among families, and the intergenerational transmis- sion of (dis)advantage (Kalmijn, 1991; Mare, 1991). Although its roots may lie in postmarital processes, such as higher divorce rates among heterogamous marriages or increased spousal resemblance later in life, research suggests that assortative mating into marriage drives observed patterns of homogamy (Schwartz & Mare, 2012). Thus, understanding partner selection processes in the earliest stages of relationships will likely provide key insights into population- level patterns of inequality.

Prior studies of assortative mating have commonly relied on surveys or census data of married, cohabiting, or dating couples and therefore omit important pre-relationship dynamics (England, 2004). By beginning with established relationships, such studies miss initial romantic gestures that hold valuable clues for partner preferences and the origins of relationship stratification. In this study, we extended a burgeoning literature of online dating to analyze 6 months of solicitations and contact patterns for all active daters on a popular online dating site in a mid-size metropolitan area. These data provide the unique opportunity to analyze men's and women's decisions in the earliest stages of relationship formation and allowed us to test several hypotheses about gender, partner preferences, and mate selection.


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. Over the past decade, online dating has become a highly visible and common strategy for mate selection (Sautter, Tippett, & Morgan, 2010). Rosenfeld and Thomas (2012) recently conducted a nationally representative longitudinal survey of how couples meet and stay together and found that online dating is the fastest growing means for unmarried couples to meet.Amongsampledheterosexualcoupleswho metin2009(thelastyearofthesurvey),22%met their partner online. Moreover, the authors found that online dating is displacing traditional forms of meeting, such as family, friends, and work, whileresultinginrelationshipsofsimilarquality. The increased use and decreased stigma of online dating, along with the rich data collected by online dating companies, make it a useful area for understanding the preliminary stages of union formation.

There is considerable variability in how online dating websites work: Some charge users to participate (, others are free (; some target a wide audience, others aim at particular subgroups (e.g., religiously affiliated sites like JDate); some emphasize self-directed partner searches (e.g.,, others rely on scientific algorithms forpartnerselection(e.g.,eHarmony;seeFinkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reis, & Sprecher, 2012, for a review). The dating website associated with this study is free and open to all singles. The site uses an algorithm to suggest potential matches but also allows users to search among all visible profiles.

The online daters of our study followed steps typical of most online dating sites. First, they were required to create profiles that were then posted on the dating website. Profiles consisted of predefined personal and demographic fields (e.g., age, race, education, body type, smoking), and open-ended essays (e.g., "The first thing people notice about me . . ."). Users were also asked to report their partner gender and age preferences, location (near where they live or anywhere), and nature of the relationship desired (friend, short-term or long-term dating, casual sex). …

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