No replies on Tinder? Study reveals where online daters get it wrong

No luck on Tinder? Maybe it’s because you’re playing out of your league: Scientists find most people try to land dating app partners who are at least 25% better looking than themselves

  • Most online daters are seeking a partner who is more attractive than themselves
  • This tactic may explain why a lot of messages on dating apps go unanswered
  • But research showed one in five who used the technique managed to get a reply
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If you’re struggling to find matches on dating apps, it may be because you’re setting your sights too high.

A study found the majority of online daters are seeking potential dates who are at least 25 per cent more attractive than themselves.

Daters focussing on people ‘out of their league’ may explain why a lot of messages on apps go unanswered, scientists said.

The tactic might not get you as many dates as those with realistic expectations – but the study did show one in five people who use it manage to get at least one reply.

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If you’re struggling to find matches on dating apps, it may be because you’re setting your sights too high. A study found the majority of online daters on apps such as Tinder are seeking potential dates who are around 25 per cent more attractive than themselves (stock)

Study coauthor Professor Elizabeth Bruch, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, said: ‘I think a common complaint when people use online dating websites is they feel like they never get any replies.

‘This can be dispiriting.

‘But even though the response rate is low our analysis shows 21 percent of people who engage in this aspirational behaviour do get replies from a mate who is ‘out of their league’ – so perseverance pays off.’

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The dating app industry has gone through the roof with a global 26 million daily match-ups on Tinder alone.

Plenty of Fish has 90 million people on their register.

Now Professor Bruch and colleagues have developed a formula that shows the idea someone is ‘out of your league’ doesn’t put off online daters. 

Researchers said daters focussing on people who are ‘out of their league’ may explain why a lot of messages on dating apps go unanswered. The tactic might not get you as many dates, but the study did show one in five people who use it manage to get a reply (stock)

In the first study of its kind hierarchies of desirability – or ‘leagues’ – were identified in in online dating networks in four major US cities. 

To rate users’ attractiveness the researchers devised a ranking algorithm based on the number of messages a person receives and the desirability of the senders.

Co-author Professor Mark Newman said: ‘Rather than relying on guesses about what people find attractive, this approach allows us to define desirability in terms of who is receiving the most attention and from whom.’

The researchers applied the algorithm to users of a dating website based in New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle.

Research showed that 21 per cent of people gunning to punch above their weight successfully got at least one reply from someone more attractive than themselves.

It revealed people behave strategically by altering the length and number of messages they send to people depending on how attractive they are – with longer messages saved for top matches.


The first ever incarnation of a dating app can be traced back to 1995 when was first launched.

The website allowed single people to upload a profile, a picture and chat to people online.

The app was intended to allow people looking for long-term relationships to meet.

eHarmony was developed in 2000 and two years later Ashley Madison, a site dedicated to infidelity and cheating, was first launched.

A plethora of other dating sites with a unique target demographic were set up in the next 10-15 years including: OKCupid (2004), Plenty of Fish (2006), Grindr (2009) and Happn (2013).

In 2012, Tinder was launched and was the first ‘swipe’ based dating platform. 

After its initial launch it’s usage snowballed and by March 2014 there were one billion matches a day, worldwide.

In 2014, co-founder of Tinder, Whitney Wolfe Herd launched Bumble, a dating app that empowered women by only allowing females to send the first message.

The popularity of mobile dating apps such as Tinder, Badoo and more recently Bumble is attributable to a growing amount of younger users with a busy schedule.

In the 1990s, there was a stigma attached to online dating as it was considered a last-ditch and desperate attempt to find love.

This belief has dissipated and now around one third of marriages are between couples who met online.

A survey from 2014 found that 84 per cent of dating app users were using online dating services to look for a romantic relationship.

Twenty-four per cent stated that that they used online dating apps explicitly for sexual encounters.

The study also found sending longer messages to more desirable prospects may not be particularly helpful in online courtship.

In three of the cities longer messages did not appear to increase a person’s chances of receiving a reply.

The one exception was Seattle – where it did work.

Up to the age of 50, older men tended to have higher desirability scores than younger counterparts.

Women’s tended to decline the older they got – from 18 to 60.

But Professor Bruch said: ‘There can be a lot of difference in terms of who is desirable to whom.

‘Our scores reflect the overall desirability rankings given online dating site users’ diverse preferences.

‘There may be sub-markets in which people who would not necessarily score as high by our measures could still have an awesome and fulfilling dating life.’

This is also just the first – and perhaps shallowest – phase of courtship, she said.

Previous dating research has shown as people spend time together, their unique character traits become more important relative to other attributes.

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