Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Demographics of niche and mainstream dating sites.

First, feel free to download our Powerpoint presentation from Google Docs here. You can also click on any image to see a larger version.

Internet Dating: "Getting It On(Line)"

A Soc 419 Project by Arianna, Rachel, Kyle, and Elyse.


Is there a difference in demographics between people who use general dating sites and niche dating sites?

We've found that mainstream sites tended to represent internet averages more consistently than did niche sites. Niche sites had extreme deviations in some categories, however.

Barraket's Three Types of Dating Sites

1. Search/Sort/Match

  • users choose particular characteristics

2. Personality Matching

  • matching done by site with personality testing

3. Social Networking

  • users can invite friends and match each other
  • also takes advantage of current technology (e.g. text messaging, video)

Who is dating online?

Valkenburg-Peter study:

  • 30-50 year olds
  • socially inept people, shy people, people with relationship problems
  • 40-year-olds, who may be divorced, have families, and/or careers

Barraket's study:

  • not just shy people, but also people with busy lives

Online dating using increasingly different technology, so demographics likely to change rapidly.

Why are people dating online?

  • More people are single, busy, and mobile
  • Fewer potential partners in current social network
  • Lots of control over self-presentation
  • Social factors, not individual factors, are the reason for choosing to date online

How do people date online?

  • Online relationships devalue proximity, but proximity is still a factor.
  • Sites are made for the user to meet people out-of-network (i.e. their friends, work, school)
  • Niche sites show that people still look for similarities: "different but not too different"
  • Old norms are reproduced, but new norms are forming

What we did

  • Each of us chose a mainstream and niche site and created an account or examined profile-creation questions.
  • We read articles about past studies on online dating and chose the most relevant points from each.
  • We then used data from Quantcast to compare the demographics of these sites to each other and to the Internet average.

Our research sites

Mainstream Sites:

Niche Sites:

Age and education.

Green Friends has an above-average number of members who have completed graduate school, as well as above-average numbers of members in the 18-34 age range.

  • Environmental concerns as a "young adult" issue

All sites have above-average number of members in the 35-49 age range.

  • Lower-than-average numbers of people aged 50 and over in BBW and Sugar Daddy.

All mainstream sites are above-average for members aged 50 and over.

  • Are people on niche sites looking for a less serious partner, or are older Internet users just not savvy enough to find these specific sites? Do people aged 50 and older have interest in sites such as BBW and other niche sites, but since they are not aware of the existence of these sites, are they more likely to look to more mainstream sites/relationships?

The studies we read were accurate in respect to age.


Sugar Daddy has predictably higher-than-average numbers of women.

Trek Passions has higher-than-average numbers of men. This is not particularly surprising, since sci-fi tends to be a male-dominated niche group.

Yahoo! Personals was the only mainstream site with higher-than-average numbers of males. Could this be due to the fact that it's free to browse through profiles, and based on some studies, men's top activity on social networking sites is looking through pictures of women they don't know?

Income and kids.

The mainstream sites are much closer to the internet average than are the niche sites. This may have to do with the fact that these mainstream sites are more advertised to the general population.

Green Friends, whose members are making less than average, are still in college or paying off student loans. They also are most likely to not have children for the same reason.


BBW and Sugar Daddy have more African-Americans.

  • Is there more "fat pride" in African-American communities?

Trek Passions also has many African-Americans

  • This could be due to the fact that Star Trek was the first show to have powerful non-white characters.

Green Friends has the most above-average percentage of Asian members.

  • This is something we have yet to understand.

What's next?

A study on the practice of deception on online sites--does it make our data less accurate?

Are relationships initiated online more or less likely to involve violence?


  • Barraket, J., & Henry-Waring, M.S. (2008). Getting it on(line): Sociological perspectives on e-dating. Journal of Sociology, 44(2), 149-165.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M. and Peter Jochen. Who Visits Online Dating Sites? Exploring Some Characteristics of Online Daters. CyberPsychology & Behavior; Dec 2007, Vol. 10 Issue 6, p 849-852.
Just for the sake of amusement, check out this amazing video of dating in the 80s--before the age of dating sites! Also, from Sociological Images, the question What Do Women Want? was posed. They studied users on the fairly mainstream site, OkCupid, and found that what women really want is to be treated like a human--and male self-effacement. The graphs are very entertaining!


  1. I have a comment about online dating sites. To me all these online dating sites do not make sense. People just really need to come to realization that talking or chatting with someone via internet, or email, and then saying they are dating is not really reality. They might as well play Sims. How many people that actually say they are dating on these websites, actually get to be in a physical relationship where they get to be with that person. I would like to see some research on that! People are getting so lazy and lame that they have to do everything online. What happened back in the day when computers were not available? Did people just end up dying alone? These websites target a certain population and makes a business out of it.

  2. I cannot say our research and outlooks on our project are socially "correct" for people to be resorting to dating online. But it is certainly an issue that is uprising fast. I agree with Dumitru in terms of people are relying on the internet far too much these days. This invention of the internet was supposed to help us advance in a number of ways, was it anticipated to resort to it for anything and everything. Date: "a social or romantic appointment or engagement." How would one say they accomplish that online?

    We did not input the thought of "how online dating is viewed as socially possible," which may or could be our next step in this experiment...

  3. I have to disagree with you, Dumitru. I think our definition of what is "really reality" is always changing. People can form meaningful relationships online; for example, look at social support sites. Particularly when a person is physically isolated because of a medical condition, these can be a lifeline to others.
    Concerning dating sites, yes, those online interactions would hopefully carry over into the offline realm. But who are we to define for others what is or isn't a meaningful relationship to them?

  4. @Dumitru: One of our studies that we looked at as background for our project (Kyle's I think, correct me if I'm wrong) concluded what is essentially the obvious: people find that face-to-face relationships are more physically intimate than online ones.

    I wonder, though, if the relative anonymity of the internet allows people feel safer being emotionally intimate. I feel like one of our background studies said that (mine?), but I'm not sure.

    Also, my article made an interesting point in saying that online dating allows you to meet people outside of your network. People don't have time to join book clubs and PTA's in the same way anymore. Even so, these organizations don't always have an outlet for finding a relationship. On an online dating site, people can find other people interested in dating, in a similar situation, and can find someone to whom they can relate.

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