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OkCupid: The Big Lies People Tell In Online Dating

OkCupid: The Big Lies People Tell In Online Dating

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People are actually 2 inches shorter in real life

OkCupidFollowJul 7, 2010 · 6 min read

As we all know, the Internet is a great place to pretend to be someone you’re not.

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In many online situations, self-misrepresentation is totally harmless. Who cares if your Halo 3 avatar is taller than you are in real life? Or if Flickr thinks you’re single when you’re really married? But in online dating, where the whole goal is to eventually meet other people in person, creating a false impression is a whole different deal.

People do everything they can in their OkCupid profiles to make it the best representation of themselves. But in the world of online dating, it’s very hard for the casual browser to tell truth from what could be fiction. With our behind-the-scenes perspective, we’re able to shed some light on some typical claims and the likely realities behind them.

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Let’s get started.

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“I’m 6 feet tall.”

REALITY: People are two inches shorter.

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The male heights on OkCupid very nearly follow the expected normal distribution — except the whole thing is shifted to the right of where it should be. You can see it better when we overlay the implied best fit below (pardon the technical language):

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Almost universally guys like to add a couple inches to their height. You can also see a more subtle vanity at work: starting at roughly 5′ 8″, the top of the dotted curve tilts even further rightward. This means that guys as they get closer to six feet round up a bit more than usual, stretching for that coveted psychological benchmark.

When we looked into the data for women, the height exaggeration was just as widespread, though without the lurch towards a benchmark height:

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But as far as messages go, shorter women actually seem to get more attention:

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A 5′ 4″ woman gets 60 more contacts each year than a 6’0″ woman

It’s plain from these two charts that women six feet or taller are receive less messages than those who are less than six feet tall.

“I make $100,000 a year.”

REALITY: People make 20% less than they say they do.

Apparently, an online dater’s imagination is the best performing mutual fund of the last 10 years. Here’s what people are saying on OkCupid, versus what their incomes should be:

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Look at the graph to watch as people exaggerate more as they get older. As you can see, people advertise disproportionately high salaries for themselves. There are consistently 4× the number of people making $100K a year than there should be.

Note that in formulating the “expected” lines for each age we were very careful to adjust for OkCupid’s particular demographics: we compared every individual against the average not just by age but by zip code. Here a breakdown by gender of the exaggeration rates:

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As a public service, we’ve decided to make our income calculations available. The following widget will calculate the statistically expected income of your potential matches; you give it a gender, an age, and a zip code, and it’ll spit out a salary. Then you can confront your dates about exactly how much money they probably do or don’t make. Fun!

We did a little investigating as to whether a person’s stated income had any real effect on their online dating experience. We found that it matters a lot, particularly for men. This is a by-age messaging distribution:

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These bold colors contain a subtle message: if you’re a young guy and don’t make much money, cool. If you’re 23 or older and don’t make much money, not so cool. It’s not hard to see where the incentive to exaggerate comes from.

“Here’s a recent pic.”

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REALITY: The better the picture, the more likely it is to be out-of-date.

The above picture, for example, was over two years old when it was uploaded. How do we know? Most modern cameras append text tags to the jpgs they take. These tags, called EXIF metadata, specify things like the exposure and f-stop settings, GPS information if your camera has it, and, of course, the time and date the photo was taken. This is how programs like iPhoto know when (and sometimes where) you’ve taken your pictures.

Analyzing this stuff, we found that most of the pictures on OkCupid were of recent vintage; site-wide the median photo age at upload was just 92 days. However, better photos were much more likely to be outdated than normal ones. Here’s a comparison (the age of a picture below is how old it was when it was uploaded to our site):

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As you can see, over a third of the “hottest” photos on the site are a year old or more. And more than twice as many “hot” photos are over three years old (12%) as average-looking ones (5%), which makes sense because people are more inclined to cling to the pics that make them look their best

Another useful (if somewhat unorthodox) way to take in this graph is to follow the horizontal gridlines. If you trace out from “20%”, for example, you can see that 1 in 5 average-looking photos is at least a year old, meanwhile, among the “hot” photos, nearly 1 in 5 is at least two years old.

It also turns out that older people also upload older photos:

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The upshot here is, if you see a good-looking picture of a man over 30, that photo is very likely to be out-of-date. Not to get personal again, but my own OkCupid photo shows a Burberry-dressed 27 year-old, strumming away on his guitar. Meanwhile, I turn 35 in a couple months and am writing this post in the same shorts and tee-shirt I’ve been wearing for a week. Time waits for no man, unless that man doesn’t update his personal information.