Demographic Similarity in Romantic Relationships: Do We seek it out or are we stuck with "similars"?

collage of 4 different pairs of people on a purple background

Many of our previous newsletter pieces tackled assortative mating in romantic relationships- the tendency for people to date people similar to themselves in personality traits and values at a higher rate than those who aren’t, and how much similarity matters when predicting who’s going to be attracted to whom.

However, assortative mating isn’t just about personality traits and values. In fact, according to a comprehensive review of research on couple similarity since the 1980s, the greatest form of similarity that exists between couples is actually their demographic traits such as race, religion, political affiliations, and education/income levels.

One question this review raised regarding the mechanism that influences this similarity in demographic traits is whether people actively choose those that are similar to themselves or whether they end up together because of social and geographical constraints. As Matthew Jackson describes in his book The Human Network, our society is socially and geographically segregated in such a way that we only engage with those that are similar to ourselves in the first place.

We were wondering whether this question can be answered by exploring demographic similarity in online dating choices where those social and geographical constraints are removed: are people more likely to date people with different demographic profiles when they meet online as opposed to in-person? 

There are several research studies that look into whether people actively choose those that are demographically similar to themselves on online dating platforms where they are given the chance to potentially meet anyone from anywhere in the world. 

One study by professors at Yale and Stanford that looks into the political preferences of online daters finds that participants are more likely to reach out to potential partners when they have similar political beliefs. 

Another recent analysis from 2020 that uses data from a unique, nationally representative dataset finds that couples who meet online are more likely to be interracial, interreligious, and of different college degree status, but also more similar in age. However, since the sample sizes are vastly different for couples who meet in real life vs. online, it’s difficult to speak to the generalizability of these results. 

Perhaps, as online dating continues to expand, we will be able to make more grounded claims with regards to the demographic diversity of couples that met online. Till then, we are always on the lookout for new research!