I may have led you astray.
In “You are (probably) more attractive than you think you are!,” I based my comments on the observation that most midlife women I know think of themselves as less attractive than others rate them. And men tend to overstate their attractiveness.
But a study reported in “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” sets my premise on its ear. The authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, quote research* conducted by two economists and a psychologist who analyzed how 22,000 active online daters rated their appearance, among other things. They compared these findings to the national average to show that online daters exaggerate.
Are we surprised? No.
What is surprising is the amount of the embellishment.
Just like in Lake Wobegon, where “the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” so too in the online dating world. But this extraordinariness extends to the appearance of men and women — at least the single adults listing themselves on dating sites.
Seventy-two percent of the women claimed “above average” looks. Of these, 24% claimed “very good looks.” Men were a tad more modest — 68% rated themselves as “above average,” with 19% of those saying they had “very good looks.” Are we to surmise that single people — at least those listed on dating sites — are better looking than the general population? While many singles go out of their way to have makeovers, lose weight, and work out, are we to believe that 19-24% of these 22,000 people are very good looking? Doubtful.
Only about 30% marked “average” in the appearance box, and 1% choose “less than average” looks.
So people are a bit delusional about how their looks compare to others, or they are concerned that if they put “average” no one will want to meet them. But isn’t that what pictures are for?
Both genders listed heights averaging 1 inch taller than the national average. Men’s weight was congruent with the national average, while women reported their weight as 20 pounds less than the national average. One can understand this as men are penalized for being short, and women for being fat. My experience is that most women wouldn’t notice an inch of height on a man, and most men don’t really know what women weigh, but they have a sense that women should weigh less than 125 pounds. They don’t realize that sex symbols like Mariah Carey and Tyra Banks weigh 150-160, and that number sounds like someone who’s fat.
The embellishment continues. Four percent of the online daters say they earn more than $200,000 a year, but only one percent of typical Internet users earn that much. Are successful people more likely to engage in online dating? Probably not. More of them are likely to use a matchmaker for a finding a partner. Are they greatly exaggerating? Yep.
So what do we make of this information? You have likely already figured out to take what people say in their profiles with a grain of salt. Last week I went out with a man who claimed to be 6-feet tall, but with my 2-inch heels on my 5-foot-10 frame I was at least an inch taller.
Are you justified in stretching the truth to get more responses? If you are like 21% of the women in the study and get no responses to your profile, you may be tempted to fudge — post a younger picture, shave off a few years, say you’re slender when you carry 25 extra pounds. (BTW, the report didn’t say how long the people in the study had been listed on the site. But for some perspective, 56% of the men didn’t get one email.)
My advice: Don’t fudge. Today I got a wink from a 53-year old man who admits to stating he’s 51 in the demographics section in order to get more responses. Does he really think 2 years is going to make a big difference? However, duplicity does. What else might he be stretching the truth about? “Divorced” really means “separated” or worse “married in a loveless relationship but we stay together for the kids”?
* “What Makes You Click? — Mate Preferences and Matching Outcomes in Online Dating” by Günter J. Hitsch, Ali Hortaçsu and Dan Ariely