This week, we’re going to take a step back from examining messages to your matches and take a look at matching itself. We’ll slice OkCupid’s data on compatibility by religion, race, and other factors, and by the end we’ll have some unsettling conclusions on how people match and interact online. But first, I want to explain something important.
What Does It Mean To “Match” Someone?
All OkCupid users create their own matching algorithms, so when we determine who matches who, we’re just crunching the numbers people give us.
A match percentage between two people is an expression of how well they might get along.
A match percentage between two people is a condensed, yet statistically valid, expression of how well they might get along. 75% is very high, 45% is very low, and 60.2% is the site-wide average. If, for example, a couple match each other 71%, it means they are likely to like each other, based on their own individual definitions of what makes a person cool, sexy, and attractive, not ours. I point this out now so that, below, when we claim that Jewish women are easier to get along with than Christians, you don’t blame us, you blame Jesus.
We discuss matching more at the end of this post, if you’re interested or nerdy. Now let’s move on.
The Zodiac and Other Beliefs
Since he’s a Pisces and I’m a Virgo, Chris and I of course think the Zodiac is total bullshit, and it was very gratifying to have the data bear this out. Here are the grouped match percentages for a random pool of 500,000 users. Astrological sign has no effect whatsoever on how compatible two people are.
We’re showing you this table, as dull as it is, because the uniformity neatly illustrates how beefy our data set is. There are 144 pools considered above, and they all match the mean plus or minus 0.5%. Our next table again aggregates the preferences of those 500,000 random users, but it shows stronger feelings. Red indicates mutual dislike and green, mutual like. For brevity, and because that’s where we have by far the most data, all the tables on this page display data for straight men and women only.
The numbers on the perimeter of the table are the weighted average match percentage, a measure of group likability, for each column or row. Here’s what we see:
- Jews and Agnostics get along better with people. Jewish men, in particular, have an above average match percentage with every religious group. They even match Muslim women better than Muslim men do, which I find both a hilarious irony and a somewhat sad reflection on the fact that Muslim males don’t seem to be doing very well. The data also cast an interesting light on the Jewish people’s history as a persecuted people: the underlying facts indicate an intrinsic mainstream likability, yet Jews have not been, and in some places still aren’t, “liked.” We’ll investigate a similar dichotomy in the second half of this post when we look at matching by race.
- Muslims of both sexes and Hindu men get along worse. Now is a good time to stress that just because a group has low match percentages, even across the board, that does not mean they are bad people. It just means that they’re harder to please. The converse is also true: the above chart is not evidence that Jews or Agnostics are better than the rest of us. Just better liked. In any event, please keep in mind that each individual has designed his own matching criteria, so the poor-matching groups aren’t failing some outsider’s imposed system. Why, for example, Hindu men would match worst with Hindu women is a mystery.
- Catholics are more universally liked than Protestants. While neither Christian group has many extremes of like/dislike, Protestant Christians only truly match well with other Christians. Catholics have above average match percentages with Hindus, Jews, and even Agnostics. Looks like Vatican II is working, guys!
Get Serious, Or Don’t
When we change our question from “What do you believe?” to “How strong do you believe it?” we get a much more orderly color pattern, and we also unlock some of the mysteries of the previous table. Below we plot people by their attitude about religion, as selected on their profile page.
As it turns out, people who hold their beliefs lightly are much better liked, even by people who are themselves serious. Weird huh? While it’s true that the most serious women believers slightly prefer their men to not be “laughing about it”, every other slice of this data indicates that the less serious (or more flexible?) you are about your religious beliefs, the better you get along.
The less serious you are about religion, the better liked you are, even by very religious people.
Please note that when I say “religious beliefs,” I’m talking about the full spectrum of beliefs, from Atheism to Orthodoxy, so don’t take this as anti-god; I also realize that “getting along” is hardly the purpose behind most people’s theological attitudes. Nonetheless, I think it’s interesting that even a man who’s “very serious” about his religion and has presumably designed his matching algorithm around this fact is still more compatible with the women who are laughing about it.
This information goes some way in explaining our first religion table: in our data pool, Muslims and Protestants tend to be more intense about their beliefs than the others, and Jews and Agnostics are by far the least serious. Here’s the first chart, replotted to include overall seriousness in blue.
Ah, race. If religion is a minefield, then race is a field that’s just one giant mine. But luckily, our match-by-race table isn’t nearly as, well, colorful as the religion ones.
As you can see, there are slight matching biases here, but nothing too dramatic. It’s not going to make many people excited to hear that, for example, white people tend to be better liked, (or, if you want to think reciprocally, do more liking) than the other races, or that black and Indian men are less liked/liking, but, still, those differences are small compared to what we saw with religion. In addition, it’s entirely possible that most of the discrepancies might be just reflect different religious attitudes across the races.
More than anything this table shows the overall compatibility of all races—indicating that in a perfect world, yes, we could all just get along. Yet we don’t. And, in this way, it marks the perfect transition point in our discussion. In the real world people largely choose who to get along with, and even who to get to know.As I said in the beginning of this post, match percentage is an excellent predictor of how well two people might get along; however, in the real world people largely choose who to get along with, and even who to get to know. In online dating, we can measure this choice by looking at how often people reply to actual messages from people of the various races, and then contrast that rate with the underlying compatibilities. And that’s exactly what we’ll do in the second half of this post, which will be up next week. Look once more at the match-by-race chart above and then look at the reply-rate-by-race table below.
It’s a glimpse at the jagged terrain where we’ll be going:
Addendum, If You’re Interested: “Match Percentage”
We all know what it feels like to meet someone you really like, but, unfortunately, feelings are something web servers have trouble with. Therefore, our first goal with OkCupid was to quantify this elusive idea of “compatibility” so we could accurately suggest users to each other.
It’s not as simple as saying, Mary really likes hockey and Bob really likes hockey
It’s not as simple as saying, Mary really likes hockey and Bob really likes hockey, therefore they are a good match—which is how many dating sites work. What if instead Mary really likes being dominated during sex? If Bob also needs to be dominated, and good sex is important to them, Bob and Mary are terrible matches. In bed, at least, they both want their opposites.
This, and other thought experiments, eventually led us to a definition of compatibility that’s user-defined. After all:
- You’re great in all kinds of ways we don’t understand.
- You have specific needs we can’t possibly categorize.
- You don’t want our advice, you want to meet people you’ll like.
In short, our method is this: we host an ever-changing database of user-submitted questions, covering every imaginable topic, from spirituality to dental hygiene. To build their own match algorithms, our users answer as many questions as they please (the average is about 230). When answering a question, a user also picks her how her ideal match would answer and how important the question is to her. It’s very simple, and it removes all subjectivity on our part. We simply crunch the numbers.
OkCupid is no more responsible for people’s match percentages than Microsoft Excel is responsible for their net worth.
So, for example, if two people match each other 69%, what it means is that they are very likely to like each other, based on their own definitions of what makes a person attractive, not ours. OkCupid is no more responsible for people’s match percentages than Microsoft Excel is responsible for their net worth. Again, our users write the match questions, choose which ones to answer, and determine how important each answer is. We just do the math. A very detailed explanation of exactly what math we do is in our FAAAQ.