the looks/income tradeoff table

So this paper from the MIT Sloan School of Management is kinda interesting … basically the problem with asking people about their preference for their mate is that, well, people lie. So these researchers got online dating records for about 22,000 users in San Diego and Boston and figured out people’s preferences using a sophisticated multivariable analysis. A couple findings:

  • Not surprisingly, looks were v. important for men and women. “However, there is a surprising ‘superstar effect for men,” the researchers say. “Men in the top five percent of ratings receive almost twice as many first contacts as the next five percent; for women, on the other hand, the analogous difference in outcomes is much smaller.”
  • “Height matters for both men and women, but mostly in opposite directions. Women like tall men. Men in the 6’3 – 6’4 range, for example, receive 65% more first-contact e-mails than men in the 5’7 – 5’8 range. In contrast, the ideal height for women is in the 5’3- 5’8 range, while taller women experience increasingly worse outcomes. For example, the average 6’3 tall woman receives 42% fewer e-mails than a woman who is 5’5.”
  • “The optimal BMI for men is about 27. According to the American Heart Association, a man with such a BMI is slightly overweight. For women, on the other hand, the optimal BMI is about 17, which is considered under-weight and corresponds to the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives 90% more first-contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25.”
  • Income “strongly affects” the number of first-contact emails men receive, while the “the online success of women is at most marginally related to their income.”

Here’s the really interesting table: the looks/income tradeoff table. Guys, if you are a 7, how much more money do you need to earn to be the online-dating equivalent of a guy who is a “10″ looks-wise and earns $62,500? (Or at least, get as many emails responding to your online personal)

1 – $186,000 (so total income is $248,500, $186,000+$62,500)
2 – $169,000
3 – $159,000
4 – $151,000
5 – $143,000
6 – $128,000
7 – $86,000
8 – $37,000
9 – $25,000

An equivalent table can’t be constructed for women, however. Men in the study showed a slight preference for women earning $50,000 – $100,000 versus lower incomes, but earning more than that didn’t seem to improve outcomes.

There’s other tables that can be constructed: a 5’2″ guy needs to earn $269,000 to get as many responses as a 5’11.5″ man earning $62,500. Asian guys need to earn $309,500 a year to get as many responses from white women, as a white man earning $62,500 would. (These are the factoids you get when MIT geeks try to analyze online dating?)

14 comments to the looks/income tradeoff table

  • themofo

    How exactly did they get the dating records to do this research? As someone who lives in Boston and tried online dating for a while, I want to know.

  • I guess the online dating service gave it to them? I know, somewhat creepy huh?

    Our data contain a detailed, second by second account of all these user activities. (We obtained this information in the form of a “computer log file.”) We know if and when a user browses another user, views his or her photo(s), sends an e-mail to another user, answers a received e-mail, etc. We also have additional information that indicates whether an e-mail contains a phone number, e-mail address, or keyword or phrase such as “let’s meet,” based on an automated search for special words and characters in the exchanged e-mails. (We do not see the full content of the e-mail, or the e-mail address or phone number that was exchanged … Neither the names nor any contact information of the users were provided to us in order to protect the privacy of the users.)

    It doesn’t say which online dating service it was. But it was a service that has users rate their own attractiveness, and one of the possible answers was “bring your bag in case mine tears.”

  • themofo

    I might also note that these guys were using a self-selected sample group, since lots of people don’t use online dating– which, in my observation, tends to be populated with younger, whiter, wealthier audiences.

    But their basic conclusion that women are more fixated on looks and money than men does jibe true.

  • TheMofo sez:
    [T]heir basic conclusion that women are more fixated on looks and money than men does jibe true.

    Study sez:
    “The optimal BMI for men is about 27. According to the American Heart Association, a man with such a BMI is slightly overweight. For women, on the other hand, the optimal BMI is about 17, which is considered under-weight and corresponds to the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives 90% more first-contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25.”

    Could someone please help me reconcile these 2 wildly contradictory statements? Thank you.

  • Reading the study, it doesn’t actually say whether looks matter more for men than women in the users sampled.

    It does say that women care more than men about their potential mate’s education, income, profession (lawyers, firefighters and members of the military get the most email) and race (both men and women want to date people of their own race, but supposedly women discriminate more).

  • I will say, it’s not just the physical/career attributes, but also how the man presents himself…I mean, if a guy’s JDate (or whatever else) essay is going to be all run-on sentences and full of typos (or if they don’t even have an essay, or only have 1 or 2 sentences)…then who even cares how much money they make or that they have bigger biceps than the others…next!!!

  • themofo

    It’s in Rose’s first point– the best-looking men get far more interest than the regularly good-looking men, while no similar ‘superstar’ difference exists between the best-looking women and the regularly good-looking ones. Yes, men may pine away for thin women, but we’re not nearly as fixated on the super-good-looking ones as women are about men. That’s how I read it, at least.

    My question is about the correlation between a man’s income and his desirability– whether it really is a straight line, and the more money you make the more women will go for you. I think it’s very true that men don’t have that attitude about women; so long as she supports herself and is financially stable, I don’t really care if she makes $100,000 or $2 million.

  • Mofo, re: your first graph, yeah that’s how I read the study too. Check out page 56 of the PDF for the table.

  • Tallman

    Very interesting article. Hmm, I guess that explains why I had so much success at online dating, except for basic looks (where I’m clearly not a 10), I’ve got the height, the 27 BMI, and the extra income to bring myself up to a “10″. What a nice validating article for me!

    I don’t see what is contradictory about the statement, Alizinha. Guys are a little more fixated on looks, so they don’t rule out thin women as much. Meaning the thin get contacted. A 27 BMI on a man, which is what I am, is not going to make someone look pudgy, especially not if some of that weight is due to muscle from a little strength training or sports. Especially so if they still have their clothes on in the picture, which I hope most online profiles only include. It is just going to look healthy and not obsessed with working out. Derek runs marathons and has a BMI in the mid 20′s, right Derek?

    I’m sure a 17 BMI for women isn’t optimal for most men in real life, but it may look better in photgraphs as compared to in person (or, for that matter, once the lights are dimm, which is probably the point when a women’s weight really “comes into play”). I suspect optimal BMI increases as one moves from stage to stage.

  • I’m 5-11 and a smidge and 169 pounds, so my my BMI is 23.6 … have thankfully been able to keep off most of the eight pounds I lost over the summer.

    Unlike Tallman, I should note I have had little success at online dating … shorter and make less money.

    It is worth noting, that women with a BMI under 16 have a 25% less chance of being contacted than an average girl. So yes you can be too thin. (For men under 16 BMI, the penalty is 75%). The girls most likely to be emailed were in the 16-18 range, with a significant dropoff after 22.

    This is funny, I wrote this post yesterday, then this morning I read more of “Freakonomics” and found the study discussed at length on pages 80-84. They say there’s no way the people on the site were as tall, rich, skinny, good-looking or blonde as they claimed … and only 1% said their looks were “less than average.”

  • Monday

    This is an interesting article to me, as I just read an article that supports what is said. It talked about the increased endorphins a woman experiences when she has to lift her head to look at her man (versus having to look down to talk to her mate)… so perhaps it’s biochemical for us to like a taller man.

    Me, I’m 5′ 7 and a smidge, and I don’t think I’ve ever defined actual parameters for my dating life in terms of things like height, BMI. I suppose it wouldn’t be a stretch to do that, though. I like an attractive, conversational guy who is taller than me, is as comfortable picking a good wine as kicking back with a beer, can dance all night, still run with me the next day, and ….

    Eek. I sound like I’m writing an online dating profile, which is something I’ve never done. Before this minute, that is ….

  • themofo

    All perfectly respectable dating criteria, Monday, but you’re talking about real-world requirements that you’d only confirm when you meet the guy– this paper is about what people prefer when personality traits are stripped away and you can only judge a photo and statements like income, height, etc.

  • CL

    I think nyflygirl’s comment is the one you really have to look at. Of course people of both sexes who are good-looking (or fit the typical standard for what good looks are) are going to be contacted more often.

    However, the study can never account for sense of humor, confidence, kindness, creepiness, intelligence of answers to profile questions, spaciness, and answers to a million other things. I don’t think this tells us anything we don’t already know.

  • Oh, man, I’m screwed. I’m short, ugly, and don’t make enough money. But I spell and punctuate correctly, so maybe I can get a dinner with NYFlyGirl sometime. ;)

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