A new study from the University of Michigan published in Science Advances Journal has analysed the dynamics of online dating.
The researchers observed the number and content of messages between over 186,000 heterosexual users of a popular, free online dating website in New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle over one month.
The desirability or attractiveness of an individual was rated by the amount of messages that each user received, as well as by how desirable the users contacting them were.
That is to say, the hotter your suitors – the hotter you are.
The most popular individual across all four cities was reported to be a 30-year-old woman living in New York who received over 1,500 messages during the observation period (equivalent to one message every half an hour, day and night for the full month).
So, here's what they found.
1. Men aren't interested in older women in the online dating world.
Older men are more attractive in online dating than younger men, with desirability peaking at 50 years old.
The trend is the opposite for women, with desirability declining from the age of 18 to 60.
While male interest in younger women has been demonstrated in real world studies, Dr Jaimee Stuart, a lecturer from the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University, told BuzzFeed News she believes these kind of effects are amplified significantly in online dating.
"The digital environment is often one where normalised behaviour plays out but – and I want to say a really big 'but' – the characteristics of that environment mean that people do things very differently to what they would actually do offline", she said.
2. Highly educated women don't do well in online dating.
The research found that more education makes men more desirable, but the reverse does not apply in online dating. Women with an undergraduate degree were the most desirable in the study, but postgraduate education is associated with a decreased level of desirability.
Stuart notes that this is, again, an effect from the real world that is exacerbated by the digital environment and related to sociocultural perceptions related to "feelings of threat" that "probably have to do with perceptions that men have from society about what it is to be masculine".
3. People almost exclusively reach out to others who are more attractive than them, but rarely hedge their bets.
Both sexes tend to contact people who are significantly more desirable than themselves.
On average, men will send messages to women who are 26% further up the desirability scale than they are; women are only slightly more realistic, sending messages to men who are 23% more desirable.
Men are more than twice as likely to receive a message sent by a less desirable woman than a more desirable one.
Women will reply to a less desirable man up to 21% of the time.
The researchers noted that very few of the service users adopted a "diversified strategy" by reaching out to less attractive people as well to increase the likelihood of acceptance, "as one might, for instance, when applying to universities".
However, they also conclude that the likelihood of striking up a conversation with a highly desirable person still remains well above zero, meaning that "attracting the attention of someone out of one's league is entirely possible".
Stuart believes that this sort of "reaching" behaviour may be due to the Online Disinhibition Effect, whereby people act more boldly online due to different social circumstances.
Stuart says it's why "a lot of people would just go out there fishing on an online dating site, there's a lack of consequences" and that it will "make you feel hurt but it's not as bad as rejection in person".
4. The content of messages doesn't seem to matter a whole lot.
Both men and women will put more effort into writing longer messages to more attractive people – obviously – but women tend to do this more than men.
Women will use also more emotionally positive words when they're communicating with somebody rated more desirable than themselves.
Men actually reduce their use of positive words with more desirable women (which works – men actually seem to receive less replies when their messages are more positively-worded).
However, the researchers found that overall the variation in payoff for these different messaging strategies doesn't differ all that much and "effort put into writing longer or more positive messages may be wasted".