Here’s a Shocker: People Lie on their Online Dating Profiles

I know, it’s enough to shake your faith in humanity, but it’s the cold truth. Singles routinely fudge their height, weight, and age.

Frequent online daters can also expect some surprises about income, education, number of children, and even marital status when they come face to face.

It seems only natural for people to buff up their images or inflate their stats to increase their appeal—who doesn’t want to put their best features forward and de-emphasize their flaws? The anonymous nature of a profile on a dating site makes it easy to perfect that sharper image.

But is all lying equal? And who lies more, he or she?

It’s no secret that men and women seek different qualities in a mate, at least on an instinctual level. Research confirms what observation has always told us: men look for women who appear youthful and physically attractive, while women seek men with high social status. Many of the lies we tell, like the fashions we wear, aim to increase our appeal correspondingly.

By one measure of mendacity, men and women are just about equal. When it comes to sensitivity about body size, the sexes give just about equal weight to weight, which is, perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most frequently fudged characteristics. The odds a female online dater will lie about her weight on her profile are 1 in 1.69 (59%) while the odds a man will do the same are a slightly more likely 1 in 1.65 (61%). Lying about weight is more common than having a job—the odds a person 16 or older is employed are 1 in 1.71 (58%).

Singles frequently misrepresent their height as well, and again in this case men are more likely than women to lie—1 in 1.81(55%) vs. 1 in 2.41 (42%). The same goes for age; only 1 in 7.58 women in the study lied about it, while nearly a quarter (1 in 4.12) of the men did, giving the lie to the common perception that women worry more than men about appearing youthful, at least online.

Lying about one’s profile is certainly widespread. In a recent study, fully 81% of participants lied about at least one characteristic. But the study also found most people on average stretched the truth only by small amounts, “adjusting” their weight only 5.5%, their height and age even less.

In any case, online dating veterans seem to regard dealing with dishonesty as part of the cost of “doing business” on dating sites. The odds an Internet user 18 or older believes online dating is a good way to meet people are 1 in 2.27, and Online Dating Magazine estimates that more than 20 million people visit at least one dating site every month. Bear in mind, though, that only a fraction of users are paying customers.

With all this activity, the big online dating sites have made some pretty impressive claims of success, like eHarmony’s assertion of responsibility for 2% of marriages in the US. A variety of complicating factors make such claims hard to substantiate; many of them, for example, rely on self-reported data, which must always be regarded with some degree of skepticism.

But users of dating sites know that very well. After all, a profile is nothing but a collection of self-reported data—to be taken with a couple of grains of salt.

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