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New study: People tend to aspire to date someone ‘out of their league’


Online daters tend to pursue people who are “out of their league,” according to a new study that used a unique method to analyze a large online dating website in Boston and three other major US cities.

The study determined people’s “desirability” by using the PageRank algorithm, which was created by the founders of Google to rank Web pages.

The study found that men and women both pursued partners who were about 25 percent more desirable than they themselves were. And they tended to write longer messages the more desirable the person they were writing to.

“We have so many folk theories about how dating works that have not been scientifically tested,” Elizabeth Bruch, a sociologist from the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “Data from online dating gives us a window on the strategies that people use to find partners.”


The study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, looked at anonymized data from heterosexual users of the dating website in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Seattle. The website was not named. The study covered a one-month period from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31, 2014.

The PageRank algorithm essentially rated someone as more desirable if they were messaged by other people who were also themselves desirable. “Our study is the first we know of to apply PageRank scores as a measure of desirability in large-scale online dating populations,” the researchers said in the study.

The study also made various other findings. It found, for example, that up to the age of 50 men tended to have higher desirability scores than younger men, while women’s scores tended to decline from 18 to 60, researchers said.

Because people are shooting for a date with someone in a league higher than their own, they often find their messages are unanswered, researchers said. The likelihood of getting a response dropped the greater the difference in desirability between the person sending and the person receiving.


“I think a common complaint when people use online dating websites is they feel like they never get any replies,” said Bruch who is also on the external faculty of the Santa Fe Institute, a theoretical research institute in Santa Fe, N.M. “This can be dispiriting. But 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, so perseverance pays off.”

“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.