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Education and Income Attraction: An Online Dating Field Experiment

by David Ong

ARTICLE | Applied Economics | 2015


Prior studies have found a robust correlation in the education of dating and married couples. However, there is little evidence to suggest that such correlations are causal, that is, for the sake of relationship public goods such as the pleasures of the enlightened conversations that only a common high level of education might support. Being empirical studies, they cannot rule out couples matching on other characteristics like income, height or health, which are correlated with education, from driving results. We contribute to this literature by randomly assigning high and low education and income levels to 388 artificial male and female profiles on a large online dating website in China. We then counted thousands of ‘visits’ – clicks on abbreviated profiles, which included education and income information, from search engine results. We found that men’s visits to female profiles were unaffected by the profile’s assigned education level, while women’s visits to male profiles increase with the profile’s education. However, that increase was not increasing on the women’s own level of education, though their visits to the higher income male profiles was increasing on their own education. Our findings suggest that the relationship public goods that stem from a common level of high education are not at the forefront of either men’s or women’s minds before their first dates, when one might expect such goods to play a critical role in the decision to develop the relationship further.