Despite having a very clear 'wish list' stating their preference for potential ideal matches, most online daters contact people bearing no resemblance to the characteristics they say they want in a mate, according to QUT research.
The finding was revealed in the 'Preference vs Choice in Online Dating' study conducted by QUT behavioural economists Stephen Whyte and Professor Benno Torgler.
They analysed the online dating preferences and contact behaviour of more than 41,000 Australians aged between 18-80 using data from the online dating website RSVP, with the findings now published by leading international journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking.
"We looked at whether or not people actually contact people who match what they say is their ideal partner in their profile, and our findings show they don't. Stating a preference for what you are looking for appears to have little to no bearing on the characteristics of people you actually contact," Mr Whyte said.
"How people go about finding a partner is changing dramatically thanks to the internet. Where once we were limited to settings such as school, work, social gatherings or local night spots, there is a much wider choice at hand online.
"The psychology employed by humans choosing a mate can definitely be environmentally sensitive and the nature of online dating is triggering changes in underlying preferences and decision behavior of those involved.
"Disclosure of 'ideal' partner preferences is a widely offered and commonly-used option for people creating a profile on online dating websites, but whether it's effective or useful in helping people find that special someone is unclear.
"This study provides quite unique findings in that people may state a preference for an ideal partner but they are more than happy to initiate contact with potential love interests that bear no resemblance whatsoever to that 'Mr or Mrs Perfect' they initially think they prefer over all others.
"I think it's really encouraging findings for people searching for that special someone online.
"In our fast-paced world, and with the myriad of options the internet now offers, time spent searching and exploring all available potential partners can be costly."
Mr Whyte said instead of searching until they find the exact match to their stated criteria, people may actually prefer to settle on an acceptable threshold of qualities or characteristics in a potential mate, rather than hold out.
"As Internet and cyber dating continues to grow at a rapid rate further research is required into the decision-making process and the links between stated preferences and actual choice," he said.
The research is the largest ever behavioural economic analysis of Australian online dating behaviour, with this body of work reviewing 219,013 participant contacts by 41,936 members of RSVP during a four-month period in 2016.
"Our study reviewed the interactions of people whose ages ranged from millennials to octogenarians, which in itself demonstrates how widespread online dating is and how it is changing traditional ways in which people find potential love interests," Mr Whyte said.
Since 1990, the divorce rate among adults 50 years and older has doubled. This trend, along with longer life expectancy, has resulted in many adults forming new partnerships later in life. A new phenomenon called 'Living Apart Together' (LAT)--an intimate relationship without a shared residence--is gaining popularity as an alternative form of commitment. Researchers at the University of Missouri say that while the trend is well understood in Europe, it is lesser known in the U.S. This means that challenges, such as how LAT partners can engage in family caregiving or decision-making, could affect family needs.
"What has long been understood about late-in-life relationships is largely based on long-term marriage," said Jacquelyn Benson, assistant professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. "There are now more divorced and widowed adults who are interested in forging new intimate relationships outside the confines of marriage. Recent research demonstrates that there are other ways of establishing long-lasting, high-quality relationships without committing to marriage or living together. However, U.S. society has yet to recognize LAT as a legitimate choice. If more people--young and old, married or not--saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache."
Benson and Marilyn Coleman, Curators Professor of Human Development and Family Science, interviewed adults who were at least 60 years old and in committed relationships but lived apart. The researchers found that couples were motivated by desires to stay independent, maintain their own homes, sustain existing family boundaries, and remain financially independent. Couples expressed challenges defining their relationships or choosing terms to properly convey the nature of their relationships to others. For example, the majority considered traditional dating terms such as 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend' to be awkward terms to use at their ages.
"While we are learning more about LAT relationships, further research is needed to determine how LAT relationships are related to issues such as health care and caregiving," Benson said. "Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families. Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior these conversations may be more important than ever."
The difference between men and women with respect to their age preferences, when it comes to sexual partners, is smaller than earlier believed. A recent study shows that also men become interested in older and older women as they themselves age.
While earlier research has indicated that even older men prefer young women, a recent study by Jan Antfolk at Åbo Akademi University suggests that this is only partly true. It is true that men, more than women, tend to maintain a sexual interest in younger partners. Contrary to what has been reported from earlier studies, most men and women are also sexually interested in partners their own age throughout life. Most sexual activity occurs between partners of approximately the same age.
Homosexual and bisexual men and women differ very little from their heterosexual counterparts. The only exception from this is that homosexual men are somewhat more likely than bisexual and heterosexual men to have sex with partners younger than themselves.
The study was conducted in Finland and included 878 adult men and 1789 adult women. The study was recently published in Evolutionary Psychology.