Online dating survey reveals hidden gender biases

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on December 31, 2013

From The News Desk

Now that Christmas is over, and the New Year is upon us, most people are probably thinking about how their 2014 is going to shape up. You probably visited your family with their cute significant others. Perhaps these interactions led you to realize how alone and depressed you were. Of course, the flipside is that you may have been dissuaded into thinking about future partners by witnessing your annoying 5-year-old nephew wreak havoc on everything in sight.

Either way, it is unsurprising that dating platforms have seen a surge in usage since Christmas. Online dating site Zoosk reported that it has seen a 26 percent increase in signups following the first two weeks after Christmas over the last three years. So maybe the holidays are making people feel somewhat lonely. Or at least bored.

Over the past few weeks, the site hosted a mini survey, hoping to help these newcomers learn the ins and outs of online dating. While the study wasn't necessarily done by the Pew Institute, it did survey 3,956 Zoosk users to try and give a more objective look at what works and what doesn't. And, unfortunately, it revealed some inherent sexist biases.

Let's start with pictures. The survey says men should probably refrain from selfie-taking, yet for women it's okay. Men with selfies received 8 percent less incoming messages, as well as six percent less responses to their outgoing messages (as compared to other men), whereas women who used selfies for their profile picture got 4 percent more incoming first messages. In terms of pets, it doesn't matter whether you're male or female, don't post with an animal. And, perhaps least surprisingly, people who show off their entire body as opposed to just their head, receive 203 percent more messages than the average user.

Now onto the qualitative stuff. According to the survey, those who are "honest" generally receive higher response rates. There is, however, a sexist component to it. For men, if they use words like "son," "daughter," "teenager," "children," "kids," "single dad," or "single mom," their incoming messages are 7 percent higher than average. Yet women who use these same words get 4 percent less.

So it's totally cool if men list that they've had children, were divorced, or anything slightly taboo in that vein. But when women mention these things, it's a strict turnoff. Great job, world.

The good news, at least, is that all people respond poorly to dumb ubiquitous online spelling errors like 'b4' and 'ur.' And, oddly enough, some forms of LOL-ing greatly increase reply rates. For instance, those who use "LMFAO" have a 193 percent increase in reply rate. My deepest hope is that the responses were "REALLY??? LMFAO???" With no further exchanges. But, alas, I guess I am not your "typical" online dater. Additionally, "lmao" and "haha" also received increased reply rates.

The jury however is still out as to how well women who say "I'm a single mother with a son and a daughter. LMAO," will fare. That will have to be for next year's survey.

In the end, it's a bit sad that a fluffy user survey by an online dating company can actually elicit some honest cultural double standards. While a great deal of this year has been eclipsed by the debate about the role of sexism in tech (which is most definitely a necessary conversation), we should also keep in mind how deep-seated these prejudices are in our culture. Really, it's everywhere. So, I guess, thank you, Zoosk?

And for all you women out there, let's hope that tonight you find your New Year's kiss (if you so want) and don't need to think about how you present yourself on platforms like Zoosk and OkCupid.

[Image courtesy wackystuff]