Online dating study proves age is not just a number

New research ‘reveals’ large age gaps are a deal-breaker and women prefer taller men

Online dating is ostensibly a straightforward affair. You like the look of somebody online and you try and find a common interest. Then you date. It either works out or you move on to the next person.

Academics at the University of Michigan have just published a study into the online behaviour of 1,855 people who signed up to a dating website in the New York/New Jersey area.

They observed 1.1 million decisions made when users browsed profiles or when potential partners corresponded with each other online.

Their methodology was as follows: “We present a general strategy for estimating discrete choice models that can identify both slopes and knots for continuous attributes, and also allow for multiple decision stages (ie browsing and writing) and multiple observations per stage (ie multiple instances of browsing and writing for each user).”And so say all of us.


Their snappily-titled paper Extracting Multistage Screening Rules from Online Dating Activity Data contains such pithy observations as: “We then use a combination of stochastic- and gradient-based methods to iterate between estimating the two-stage, latent class models for a given set of knots, and exploring the space of possible knots.”

So it goes on for 35 pages of the most magnificent academic verbiage.

At the end of it all the researchers found large age gaps between partners are a “deal-breaker”, while women prefer men who are taller than them and men like thin women.

Lead researcher Dr Elizabeth Bruch said the paper proves statistically what most people understand anecdotally.

“A lot of findings are the types of things that popular culture already tells us.”

Age gaps

The rule of thumb “never date anyone under half your age plus seven” would appear to be borne out by the research.

“What was exciting for us about our model was that a lot of behaviours surrounding the issue of age were quite consistent with that rule,” she said.

The research also found that women are not inclined to date a man unless he is at least three inches taller than them.

“For these women you can never be too tall, a foot or 10 inches is good,” Dr Bruch observed.

For men, the issue of a woman’s body mass index was a significant factor.

“For many men, you can never be too thin,” she said.

The research also found that the absence of a profile picture is another “dealbreaker”.

Indeed, a person is 20 times less likely to get a date if they have no profile picture, the research found.

Did we really need a research paper to tell us all this?

“I think everything we have found is in line with what people have hunches about it,” she said.

“The difference is the precision with which we are able to nail down those facts in the quote unquote ‘real world’. The ability to test them is part of the power of this research.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times