The Freakonomics of online dating

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“A little about me… My parents want me to get married, so starting my harem here. I consider myself a gentleman. I’m amazing with rum and love citrus, so pick one of Daiquiri, Mai Tai, or Mojito (virgins allowed too), and match for your favourite cocktail.” So read a dating profile of a middle eastern looking man, wearing only a fur coat, and leaning back to stroke his incredibly long lustrous black hair which reached mid-back. I laughed and re-read the profile. Took a screenshot and shared it with my best friend, and then quickly swiped left. Welcome to the world of online dating.

Looking for love became even harder with lockdowns due to COVID. It made cynics of online dating like myself give it a shot. And boy is it entertaining. But after a while, you get tired of the hi’s and how are you’s. You want a real connection. Then you come across those seemingly one percents that you enjoy texting and sharing with them some personal information about yourself. Then comes the hard part, converting it to real life. Then ghosting and standing up is the name of the game. But you keep swiping.

After a while, I started to observe myself doing weird things. I’d swipe left on the first picture, and the profile might have multiple. I was curious about what my subconscious had picked up after a month and was implementing in my decision making of online profiles. So I studied myself a little closer. Here’s what I found to repel me on that first picture. 

An unclear photo, a photo seating down or lying in bed, a bathroom selfie, a towel only or abs photo, a car (or plane) as a profile picture or as a prominent part of it, a group photo, cartoons or avatars, and wearing a cap. The last one is a bias on my side I can’t explain. A few additional things about content were fake names, absence of any content, and one-pager, and weird hobbies like picnicking. Who picnics for a hobby? Then because of the recent work I do which involves a lot of statistical analysis, a colleague recommended Freakonomics as a good read to see other applications of statistical analysis. Here’s a summary of what they found were ways to fail on data analysed from users in Boston and San Diego.

1. A picture speaks a thousand swipes

Not including a photo of yourself got you only 60% of responses than if you did. “A low-income, poorly educated, unhappily employed, not very attractive, slightly overweight, and balding who posts his photo stands a better chance than a man who earns $200 000 and is deadly handsome but doesn’t post a photo.” Whatever the reason they might have to not post a picture, the assumption by other users is, they have something seriously wrong they are hiding.

2. Show me the money!

A show of good income is favourable for men and good looks for women. Which explains why so many men like showing their Mercs and BMWs on their profiles. And men like women who are not low-income earners; however, they don’t want one who earns too highly. So ladies, if you show your Merc and he can’t afford one, he’s unlikely going to respond to you.

3. What are you after?

Men looking for a long-term relationship do better than men looking for casual dating. But women looking for casual hook-ups to pretty well. Obviously.

An additional note on physical characteristics is that women care more about the height of a man than his weight, hence men exaggerate their height on dating profiles. And being overweight is deadly for women and thus they lie about that. 

You can’t win them all

So whilst I find the blatant show of affluence off-putting, data indicates the majority of women will find you more appealing. It’s a matter of values right. A show of lived experiences and active lifestyle is more appealing to some group of women above a show of material possessions. Weight might be an indication of levels of activeness and even genetic disposition that a user might consciously or unconsciously favour or hate. The rest of it is about a show of confidence. Look at the camera square. Don’t hide, or are you on the wanted list? And given that each dating site has hundreds of thousands, and some even millions, say something about what you like. You are an adult, you can say what you like and don’t like. Surely you know that much. Then trust that someone out there will appreciate that about you and swipe right.


Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything.Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner New York: William Morrow, 2005. Print

Thanks to

Cover Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

Man in suit Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay 

Virtual handshake Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Man in cap Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Beautiful woman Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay 

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