In a final effort to find opposites who attracted on e Harmony, I decided to look for the cliché example: sugar daddies. Of course, in a dataset of a million couples, you’ll find some who fit the sugar daddy stereotype: a younger and more attractive woman matched with an older, wealthier man.
And it is true that more attractive women are more influenced by the man’s income when deciding whether to message him: Unattractive women aren’t much affected by a man’s income, but very attractive women are much more likely to message men with higher incomes.
If we compute “e Harmony status” — how often a user is asked out by their matches — we find it also follows this pattern: Everyone prefers high-status users, but high-status users show a stronger preference for other high-status users.
(It’s possible that they don’t really feel a stronger preference, but merely feel more confident in their ability to win a fellow high-status mate.) On the other hand, traits whose optimal value is more arguable — like whether you have children or what religion you follow — tend to follow the first pattern.
These couples have actually met (and mated, though we don’t know if they’re still together), they’re sometimes answering questions about matters of life and death, and they have much less incentive to lie.
Here, too, my 23and Me colleague Aaron Kleinman and I found that birds of a feather flock together: For 97 percent of the traits we examined, couples were positively correlated.
In general, widely considered positive traits, Dan Ariely, an economist who studies online dating, refers to traits where everyone prefers the same thing as examples of “vertical preferences,” as opposed to “horizontal preferences,” when people prefer those who are similar.
Men follow the second pattern: All men prefer women who describe themselves as intelligent, but men who describe themselves as intelligent display a stronger preference.
I also looked for opposites attracting in other online dating data.
I spoke to Christian Rudder, founder of Ok Cupid, which has a rich and idiosyncratic data set.
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