Innovation Hub: The Data Behind Online Dating

Online dating is big business. As of last year, it’s worth over 2 billion dollars, having grown at a steady 3.5 percent rate since 2008. And that big business has transformed the way we find love. If you’re getting married this year, there’s a one in three chance that you’ve met your spouse online. That’s a lot of wedding cake, all because of a few clicks on the Web.

To find out more about this huge industry, I talked with OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder and sociologist Pepper Schwartz about some of the fascinating things they learned when they looked at how we date online.

[This interview has been edited and condensed. For the full conversation, visit]

Kara Miller: So, the data that you get from dating sites is often really specific and precise. How much does this ability to quantify everything help us with finding someone online?

Christian Rudder: The answer to that question is the reason why we founded OkCupid. We started the site in 2003, and online dating at that time wasn’t analytical at all. We wanted to apply some math and analysis to attraction. When you’re suggesting possible matches to someone on the site, it’s very useful knowing how attractive someone is, if they have overlapping interests with other people, who they’re most likely to talk to. Information like this is super valuable to online dating.

KM: Does all this information reveal something about human nature?

CR: Well, I think anyone who’s spent a lot of time examining big data will say the same thing, that it confirms a lot of your cynical intuitions about people. Guys will send messages almost totally based on looks. People are judgmental, they’re picky, and they’re racist in certain situations. OkCupid is basically an enormous party of people milling around waiting to meet someone, judging other people and introducing themselves over and over. That gives you a lot of data, and it confirms a lot of things you’ve already suspected about people.

KM: Dr. Schwartz, did you find anything surprising in your studies of how people use online dating? Anything they might not know about themselves?

Pepper Schwartz: One of the things that surprised me most is how easily influenced people are. When I was doing online dating consulting, I was quite shocked when people would take a match recommendation way too seriously. They think there’s something wrong with them if they don’t fall in love with the people the site recommends.

KM: So how do you think online dating is changing the way we find romance? Is it just another tool that people are using, or is it something more than that?

PS: I think it’s revolutionary. Let me just talk about people over fifty. You wouldn’t find anybody after fifty before online dating. Now that you have online dating, it’s opened up a huge regeneration of people’s romantic hopes and efforts. And if you want to talk about real changes, a lot of times before online dating people would stay in a marriage because they would think to themselves: if I don’t stay here, I’ll be lonely forever. And now people think: if I really have to break this thing up, I know where to go. And that completely changes the decision-making in some people’s lives about whether they’re going to re-invest in a relationship or if they’re going to seek love outside the relationship. That’s revolutionary.

Marc Sollinger contributed to this write-up.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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2 responses to “Innovation Hub: The Data Behind Online Dating”

  1. Lack Of Innovation & Decadence can summarize the Online Dating Industry for years.
    C-level executives are cooking barbecues under the water (selling smoke)
    and not paying attention to latest research from Academics which could
    be beneficial for the Online Dating Industry.
    Online Dating for serious daters does not need to be more social, it needs to be more effective/efficient. It needs to reduce the false positives problem.
    I had reviewed over 55 compatibility matching engines intended for serious dating since 2003, when I had discovered “the online dating sound barrier” problem.

    The key to long-lasting romance is STRICT PERSONALITY SIMILARITY and
    the only way to revolutionize the Online Dating Industry is using the 16PF5 normative personality test, available in different languages to assess personality of members, or a proprietary test with exactly the same traits of the 16PF5 and expressing compatibility with eight decimals (needs a quantized pattern comparison method, part of pattern recognition by cross-correlation, to calculate similarity between prospective mates.)
    High precision in matching algorithms is precisely the key to open the door and leave the infancy of compatibility testing.

  2. Tim Cook says:

    I totally agree with the author that this is a big business, but I couldn`t imagine how far it all goes! Billions of dollars! I thought apps that I am used to as Tinder or was a tiny start-ups.