Online dating is now a huge industry, and is the preferred method for meeting others for millions all over the world. Not only are these sites enabling contacts between countless single people, they are being put to some unexpected uses as well. One of these is to be mined for research purposes by those interested in human behavior such as psychologists and demographers. The reason for this is that dating sites – particular the bigger ones – all have quite detailed information about members’ age, gender, income and location as well as other criteria. This can be accessed very quickly and easily.
A recent example of this was when Welsh researchers investigated the preferred partners of thousands of dating site members in 14 countries. They discovered that for both men and women age was a very important factor. The data showed that women preferred men who were older than them, while for men it was the other way around.
This makes sense from the perspective of evolutionary psychology: After all, men tend to accumulate wealth and power with age, making them better providers for their partners and offspring. And women tend to be more fertile, and hence more attractive to men, in their younger years.
These sexual preferences have long been known by researchers, being seen many times over in various polls, surveys and studies. So it is hardly surprising to those in the know that dating site data should reconfirm them yet again.
However, if you got most of your information about sexual trends from the media and popular culture, you might be a little surprised! That’s because the archetype of the sexually liberated older woman (or “cougar”) is front and center in the public imagination these days, with countless news stories, commercials and even a hit TV show starring Courtney Cox (
) featuring the stereotype. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that urban areas all over the western world are full of these sexually aggressive older women hungrily hunting for naïve young toyboys to have their wanton ways with! Their favorite haunts are reputed to be singles bars and, of course, online dating sites.
Wannabe toyboys and cougars may find the reality revealed by the Welsh study depressing. But then, it could actually work to their advantage.
Why? Because while those with more traditional requirements have a much wider pool of possible partners, they face greater competition as well. It’s better to mention more specific and unusual demographic requirements in your profile. If you do, you will probably get fewer responses to your ads and e-mails, but the chances of success are proportionally greater. Hence if you are an older woman or a younger man hoping to invert the usual dating age preferences, you will definitely stand out from the crowd on a dating site, thereby increasing your chances of success. So joining one is probably a very wise move indeed.