When it comes to online love, it may really be about location, location, location.
In a new study, researchers used a state-of-the-art algorithm to analyse 15 million two-way interactions on a major online dating site. They discovered that geography was the key factor when two users exchange messages.
"We were looking not just at who sent messages to whom, but who sent messages and got a reply," said study co-author Mark Newman, a complex systems expert at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. "We did this because we felt that that was a more reliable indicator of mutual [romantic] interest."
Researchers mapped clusters of users messaging each other to senders' three-digit zip codes. They found that some communities fell neatly within state boundaries, while others spilled over into neighbouring states, according to the study published in the journal Sociological Science.
"It's possible there's a psychological barrier, where you feel like dating someone in another state is going too far," Newman said in an institute news release.
Texans tended to message other Texans even though some lived closer to potential matches in Oklahoma than to those in South Texas, the study found. People in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas, meanwhile, were more open to interstate relationships.
"It's not surprising that the dating markets were geographically clustered. But the precise boundaries of those markets were a little surprising to us," said lead author Elizabeth Bruch. She's also a complex systems expert at the Santa Fe Institute.
Men and women in the same city may face very different numbers of single heterosexuals, the study found. Users in their 20s face an "oversupply" of men, while users in their 40s and 50s typically have an oversupply of women.
But not always. Patterns across cities can be quite different.
"Based purely on sex ratios within submarkets: if I was a single guy in my 20s, I'd want to date in New York," Bruch said. "But if I was a single woman in her 40s, I'd head straight to Seattle."
Race also offered surprises. In Chicago, the oldest men messaged with much younger black women than white women. Areas of New York, Boston and Seattle showed similar patterns for minority women, the study found.
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