Two second-year doctoral students at Drexel University conducted a study from February to April 2011 under the Group Informatics Lab, analyzing what makes online dating successful.
Information studies students Rachel Magee and Christopher Mascaro said they were inspired to conduct this study because of the lacking existing research on the early stages of online dating. They noted that there is much existing research surrounding compatibility, but there are few studies analyzing successful matches or what couples consider to be successful.
“We were interested in all the different types of ways people frame success,” Magee said.
Information was gathered from shared success stories on the three most popular dating websites: Match.com, eHarmony and OkCupid, using a method of systematic random sampling. Magee and Mascaro used 20 percent of the total success stories on each website, choosing every fifth story. Match.com was represented by 544 stories, while the study utilized 213 from eHarmony and 61 from OkCupid.
Couples that returned to the websites after they were matched were asked to classify their relationship status as either “married,” “engaged” or “dating.” Of the participating couples, 84 percent listed themselves as married on eHarmony compared to 46 percent on Match.com, although 33 percent of Match.com users claimed to be engaged. On OkCupid, 49 percent of participating couples were listed as dating. Mascaro explained the discrepancies among the websites.
“[Results differed] based on both [the] culture of the site and based on specifically within [the site], who it is. We looked at OkCupid, where there are a lot of same-sex couples that we have in our sample, and the reason they classify success as “dating” is because they can’t necessarily get married,” he said. “This is an important aspect of what we are looking at.”
Most of Match.com and eHarmony users analyzed in the sample were evenly dispersed geographically, Mascaro said. However, he noted that there were concentrated numbers of couples in “low-population-density islands.” One small southern town of 3,000 people was represented in the study by six couples.
“That little town showed evidence to us that the people you know, if you know that they’re successful on one site, then you’ll probably … try the site that you know works for other people,” Magee said.
As online dating sites become more widely accepted as a means of finding a partner, taboos are emerging that steer people away from joining. Some only see these sites as a means of hooking up. As a response to this, Magee and Mascaro plan to create a survey to read people’s attitudes toward online dating. They also plan on conducting in-depth interviews with couples that have been both unsuccessful and successful on these sites to determine why people experience these results.
Additionally, Mascaro says he wants to learn why some would rather meet people through social networking sites than dating sites.
“It’s a technologically mediated romantic interaction. You still have that intent of meeting people online. You’re not necessarily going to an online dating site, so the intent is different but the dynamic is the same,” Mascaro said.
At the international iConference in Toronto Feb. 7-10, Mascaro will be presenting the team’s findings, and Magee will run a workshop on online dating that will explain how others can start conducting their own research on the subject.