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Here, we report results from a quantitative study of aspirational mate pursuit in adult heterosexual romantic relationship markets in the United States, using large-scale messaging data from a popular online dating site (see the “Data” section).
We provide a crisp, operational definition of desirability that allows us to quantify the dating hierarchy and measure, for instance, how far up that hierarchy men and women can reach for partners and how reach is associated with the likelihood of getting a response.
Online dating provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to observe both requited and unrequited overtures at the scale of entire populations.
As data from online dating websites have become available, a number of studies have explored the ways in which mate choice observed online can inform the debate about matching versus competition.
Romantic courtship is often described as taking place in a dating market where men and women compete for mates, but the detailed structure and dynamics of dating markets have historically been difficult to quantify for lack of suitable data.
In recent years, however, the advent and vigorous growth of the online dating industry has provided a rich new source of information on mate pursuit.
However, while the two hypotheses may produce similar outcomes, they carry very different implications about the processes by which people identify and attract partners.
One possible explanation for this is the matching hypothesis, which suggests that men and women pursue partners who resemble themselves.In reality, a person might choose to message another based on an attractive profile picture, an interesting description, a good demographic match, an impressive income, or any of many other qualities.Page Rank scores simply give us, a posteriori, a glimpse of who is desirable on aggregate, by identifying those people who receive the largest number of messages from desirable others.This in turn implies that people differ in their opinions about what constitutes a desirable partner or at least about who is worth pursuing.At the other extreme, and more in line with biological studies of mate selection (), lies the competition hypothesis, which assumes that there is consensus about what constitutes a desirable partner and that mate seekers, regardless of their own qualifications, pursue those partners who are universally recognized as most desirable ().