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Like attracts like less in online dating

22 October 2014

Throughout the world, online dating is steadily becoming one of the most popular ways to find a partner. Gina Potârcă conducted an international comparative study of online dating and discovered that when choosing a potential partner, people are largely guided by characteristics of the country or region in which they live. In addition, like is less likely to attract like when couples meet online than if they meet in other circumstances. Potârcă will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 27 October.

Gina Potârcă used data in anonymous form from the international online dating website eDarling for her study. ‘This was a good company for my research, as it manages websites throughout Europe, allowing me to study international differences and similarities.’ People who register for online dating with eDarling must create a profile and complete an in-depth questionnaire, stating among other things what they consider important in a partner (eDarling). She also used an American data set to study the degree to which ‘like attracts like’ applies to couples who meet via online dating and couples who meet in other circumstances, such as at work or school, or through family.

Divorced mothers

It would appear that the preferences expressed by internet daters are strongly influenced by the context in which they live. Divorced mothers in countries with high full-time female employment or good childcare facilities seem to be less interested in the educational and economic status of potential partners than women in less female-friendly countries. ‘German and Austrian divorced mothers, for example, consider the qualifications of a potential partner much more important than women in France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland’, says Potârcă.

Difference in the preferences of gay men and lesbian women

She came to a similar conclusion about the preferences of gay and lesbian online daters. Potârcă: ‘In countries where same-sex partnerships are socially and institutionally accepted, where same-sex couples can marry, for example, gay men and lesbians are more often looking for long-term relationships and consider monogamy more important than those living in countries where same-sex unions are less accepted.’

Role of ethnic background

A clear hierarchy of preferences for partners with a particular ethnic background is evident in both the United States and Europe. Potârcă: ‘It is noticeable that in the European hierarchy of preferences, the European majority are the most preferred as potential partner, followed by the dater’s own ethnic group and then the Latin and Asian groups. People with an Arabic or African background are by far the least popular.’ She also discovered that in countries with a large foreign population (such as Switzerland), online daters are more receptive to partners from a different background. Finally, she concludes that people with an Arabic background are often shunned as potential partners. ‘This is even true in countries like Sweden, with a relatively large foreign-born population and generally positive attitudes towards immigrants. Despite government policy encouraging integration, the majority of Swedish internet daters would not be willing to date a partner from the Arab world.’

Larger partner pool

The American study taught Potârcă that couples who meet through online dating are less alike than couples who meet in other circumstances. Differences in education, race and religion are more common among internet couples. ‘Although internet daters are still looking for someone who is fairly similar to themselves, the extent of ‘likes matching with likes’ is reduced in online dating compared to other places where you can meet partners. The fact that internet daters more often choose someone from a different social or ethnic background could be because of the type of people who use online dating sites and the sheer size of the pool of potential partners.’

Curriculum Vitae

Gina Potârcă (Romania, 1984) will be awarded a PhD for a thesis entitled ‘Modern love. Comparative insights in online dating preferences and assortative mating’. Professor Melinda Mills is her supervisor. She carried out her PhD research, which was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), in the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, Department of Sociology, ICS research centre. She will continue her career as a postdoc researcher at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Last modified:28 October 2014 10.40 a.m.
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