What Online Dating Tells Us About Human Relationships, with Christian Rudder

The OkCupid co-founder and author of "Dataclysm" analyzes stats from dating websites in order to draw conclusions about society and dating.

Christian Rudder: I started this whole project by looking at OkCupid and the data and writing the blog that I did, and hopefully will one day do again very soon. And it's the best data set in the world because it's people, all strangers, all making judgments of one another, all probably trying to sleep with each other, which also adds a certain piquancy to the whole thing. So, you know, you look at the data and you really get a kind of special window into people's psyche. Kind of like if you could see everything that was going on in a big bar on a Friday night. And you see that men are the kind of pursuers in relationships at a four to one ratio and kind of correspondingly, women, because they're getting four messages to every one they send out, like they respond a lot less and response rates track directly with how hot the writer was, is.


But then you also see that once people start talking and they establish a rapport, which for OkCupid is four messages going back-and-forth, that attractiveness kind of goes out the window at that point. Your personality takes over after the fourth message. You see that in general women's opinions of men's looks, and again on average, is about half of what men's opinions of women's looks are so they kind of get a 50 percent discount just ice cold. On Tinder it's actually a lot more. It's something like a ten percent discount or ninety percent discount sorry the other way. They go at ten. So these environments I think, I can't prove this, my intuition is that the more sexual an environment the larger that discount from women to men.


OkCupid's user base in theory on paper is as liberal as you could ever want it to be. You ask people if they're a Democrat, if they're progressive, yes, yes, yes, you know, two, three to one. We're all highly coastal. Very little red state, very blue.  On a piece of paper OkCupid should be a very progressive place. And maybe it is because who knows what the rest of the world is like. But the data that we have, you know, black users get three quarters of the messages, the positive votes. They're attractiveness rating are three quarters of an average white user, or Latino user for that matter. They get replied to about three quarters of the time. It's pretty blanket.  Asian men also get a similar discount, but not Asian women.


And then you go and you look at DateHookup, which is a site we run. You look at the data from Match.com and you see the exact same patterns, maybe not in the exact same ratios but the same basic up down yes no patterns when you compare any race with another race. So as suggested it's kind of, I won't say universal in the sense of permanent pattern, but it's certainly like a state of affairs right now in the American psyche. And those three sites alone they registered maybe 30 million people in the United States last year. So it's not like some small sample. I mean that's about half of the single and looking people in the country, to my best guess if you look at the census number. So it's pretty meaningful and a pretty depressing thing to kind of digest.


In so far as like Grindr or any of these other sites that kind of hook up apps are hook up apps for gay men, OkCupid is a little bit more of the relationship site and we have a very strong gay user base, male and female. So we get to look at their patterns and they're basically the same as straight patterns, which I think is meaningful in the context of marriage equality. Because certainly the pre-marriage relationships seem about the same when you actually go and look at the data, which I think is a strong argument for any type of relationship being held apart legally for sure.


I think the most significant thing that people do on OkCupid, because it's a precursor to going out, going home with somebody, getting into a relationship with somebody, getting married, any of that stuff it's just messaging. And we found some kind of crazy stuff. Like it doesn't really matter how long your message is. The best messages are very short, 40 to 50 characters, but by best they get a reply 21, 22 percent of the time and kind of all messages get a reply maybe 19, 20 percent of the time so it's not like a massive increase. It does help you to spend a little bit more time on your message. We put a little script to just track the time since the composition window opened. So if you put a little bit more effort into your message per character, it will yield slightly better results. But again it's not a huge effect so we were surprised at both of those things. I thought that longer messages would either do super badly or do super well. And then if you spend a lot of time at least on your message it would do better than something that you just, type it and go.


As a writer it's a little sad to say but it kind of comes down to, just like it does in person, there's so much like first impression, which online is your picture frankly. That your actual words aren't as relevant as you probably wish they were. So, to that point people being the kind of like intuitive – people enmass being the intuitive geniuses that they are, the wisdom of the crowds or whatever, you know, you have like 20 percent of messages from guys to women are copy pasted from other messages that the guys have sent. They found something that for whatever reason either works for typifies them or that they like or whatever it is and they just blast it out.


And those actually they do worse, but not that much worse. They do like 75 percent of a normal message, a theoretically unique message. And so it's very easy to arrive at the results per units effort is like sky high just cut and pasting. So that probably will be something that increases over time. And we thought about kind of – it's very easy for us to know whether a message has been cut and pasted from another message, obviously you just compare it. But we just decided to let those things go because it's just the online equivalent of people having their favorite anecdote about themselves or this one time they got into this crazy bar fight or I don't know how I got this scar, that kind of thing in a bar or just like a standard pick up line that you might use. So it's one of these things that the online version of it seems very weird and kind of unsavory to be like this dude just sent the same message to like 40 people, but I probably told the same story – everybody that I'm friends with has probably heard a large set of the same stories from me and it's something that people just do.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton




Christian Rudder is co-founder of OkCupid and author of the New York Times bestselling book "Dataclysm," in which he harnesses user data collected from dating websites to analyze human behavior. In this video interview Rudder shares examples of OkCupid stats that tell a larger story about why relationships form.

The problem with problem solving? It isn’t ridiculous enough.

Ask very silly questions to spur very serious innovation.

  • To get really innovative solutions to complex problems, you need to abandon logic, says Dan Seewald.
  • Asking provocative and ridiculous 'what if?' questions pushes us down lateral paths of thinking versus the vertical or logical path. The latter approach is practical but it doesn't break new ground.
  • Breaking with tradition through lateral thinking allows us to solve really serious problems, from climate change to political turmoil. Or, as Dan Seewald explains, it could just help you solve all your laundry headaches.
Keep reading Show less

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less

Where the evidence of fake news is really hiding

When it comes to sniffing out whether a source is credible or not, even journalists can sometimes take the wrong approach.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less