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You feel the room shrink, your heart rate quicken, your face go red: You’re crushing on this stranger, Wait a second, you counter: Do dating “leagues” even exist? But you’re not alone in trying to escape yours: “Three-quarters, or more, of people are dating aspirationally,” she says.At this point, Elizabeth Bruch, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, crashes in to your thought process (and this news article). And according to a new study, users of online-dating sites spend most of their time trying to contact people “out of their league.”In fact, most online-dating users tend to message people more desirable than they are. She’s spent the past few years studying how people make decisions and pursue partners on online-dating sites, using exclusive data from the dating sites themselves.Michael Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at Stanford University who was not connected to this study, agreed that persistence was a good strategy.“The idea that persistence pays off makes sense to me, as the online-dating world has a wider choice set of potential mates to choose from,” he told me in an email.It’s not just that older men are considered most desirable in New York.“New York is a special case for men,” Bruch told me.“It’s the market with the highest fraction of women.
“My research comes out of realizing that with these large-scale data sets, we can shed light on a lot of these old dating aphorisms.” Bruch and her colleagues analyzed thousands of messages exchanged on a “popular, free online-dating service” between more than 186,000 straight men and women.They looked only at four metro areas—New York, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle—and only at messages from January 2014. Your specific desirability rank would have been generated by two figures: whether other desirable people contacted you, and whether other desirable people responded when you contacted them.If you contacted a much less desirable person, their desirability score would rise; if they contacted you then your score would fall.It found that—insofar as dating “leagues” are not different tiers of hotness, but a single ascending hierarchy of desirability—then they do seem to exist in the data.But people do not seem universally locked into them—and they can occasionally find success escaping from theirs.