Skip to content

Why Online Dating is Harder for Women than Men

A major new study reveals that we're still dating like it's 1958.

Given how much of a movement there is to break free of gender stereotypes, you would think that we've progressed past a time period when a woman's mate value was determined by looks and a man's was evaluated by financial success—and that there's more equality between the sexes when it comes to splitting the bill or making the first move.

But, according to a major new study out of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), while we may talk about the importance of not adhering to traditional gender norms in theory, in practice, we haven't really gotten very far.

Researchers analyzed data from 150,000 heterosexual UK users on the online dating site eHarmony for a decade, and found that the number of men initiating contact has actually risen by 24 percent in the last ten years. What's worse is that when women do take initiative and craft the first message, their response rate declines by 15 percent.

The study also found that a woman's success rate in the world of online dating is still determined predominantly by her age, appearance, and levels of athleticism. Women with a self-rated attractiveness score of between 8 and 9 received the most messages, whereas men who scored between 5 and 9 on their looks were more successful than those who scored 10 out of 10.

According to evolutionary scientists, this gender bias occurs because women perceive men who are exceptionally handsome as less reliable partners who are more likely to cheat, and apparently we have not moved past such caveman-like logic.

Evolutionary scientists have also always argued that just as mate value for women is determined by looks, the mate value of a man is determined predominantly by his resources, and that hasn't budged much either.

The study noted that while the income levels and educational background of a potential match has become less of a concern for both sexes in recent years, women are still more likely than men to take a man's financial status into account when assessing a match.

"On an individual basis, it indicates that people have become much more tolerant," Dr. Taha Yasseri, a senior research fellow in computational social science at the OII and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Factors including income, culture and religious orientation are all now less important in the overall search for a partner. However, this increased openness hasn't yet scaled up on a societal level, with marked gender inequalities focused on physical attractiveness and male-led communication still apparent."

We often tout online dating as a format that has revolutionized the dating world and created a more egalitarian platform in the search for romance, but the study argues that the opposite is true.

"The introduction and mass popularity of mobile dating applications such as Tinder in 2014 could also explain the accelerated decline of female initiation over the following years, as online dating became more popular and the signaling and psychological costs for men sending messages declined."

To put it in the simple terms elite dating coach Sameera Sullivan once told me, "Online dating has made women more frustrated and men more aloof." No wonder recent studies have shown online dating is wreaking havoc on our mental health.

While they're not nearly as scientifically sound as this major study, some surveys indicate that we have made some progress in certain areas. There's evidence to suggest that men today are less threatened by women and high-powered jobs, as women who are doctors or lawyers seem to get more right swipes than they used to. A recent survey also found that a man's height may not be as important to women as men seem to think, and a small recent study claims that women aren't as interested in "flashy" men as they used to be.

However, it's impossible not to notice that most of these micro-signs of progress seem to benefit men more so than women.

And for more bad news about the apps, check out Study Finds Online Daters Pursue People Way Out of Their League.

To discover more amazing secrets about living your best life, click here to sign up for our FREE daily newsletter!

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
Filed Under