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Proximity in Distance and Age Drives Online Dating

Unsurprisingly, men are more likely to initiate online contact, sending more than 80 percent of initial messages to potential partners. Women receive four times as many first messages as men do. And women reply to men’s messages at a “substantially lower rate” than men replying to women, the researchers find.

Dating sites make it possible to increase the size and scale of one’s search for mates. But the study finds little evidence that people are connecting with partners who live far away. In fact, geographic proximity matters a great deal. Proximity is the single strongest driver of connections, or “reciprocal interactions,” which occur when two people uninitiate an online conversation. The study identified 19 distinct dating communities which closely map onto geographic regions, such as New England, the South, Texas, and so on.

But online dating isn’t necessary making proximity more important. “Whether or not the influence of geography is exacerbated by the setup of online dating sites, however, depends on how local dating is to begin with,” Bruch told CityLab via email. “My sense from cell-phone studies of routine activity is that people typically stay within a given urban area, which suggests that offline dating is also fairly local.”

The study considers factors such as the age structure of dating markets, age gaps between men and women, and the role of race, zooming in on four cities: New York, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle.

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