Web-based personals -- an informal study
Remit of this study
The purpose of this study is (just because I have some results and conclusions,
I'm not shutting it down) to examine the claim often made by disgruntled men
that web-based personals have few ads placed by women. Its aim is determine if
this claim is true, if so, to speculate on the factors involved, and if not,
where the perception comes from. To keep matters simple, it has been restricted
to heterosexual ads.
Since my initial interest in this matter was sparked by postings in the
newsgroup uk.people.bdsm the sites
surveyed show something of a bias to the "alternative". I have concentrated
on UK sites, or UK sections of international sites because:
but the occasional US data point makes for interesting comparisons.
- I'm not being serious enough to cope with the sheer volume of data
including the USA would generate
- It started in a uk.* newsgroup
- Maybe I'll get lucky...
I have divided the sites into "small" and "large", which is more a reflection
on how statistically helpful I believe the numbers obtained to be. Thus some
"small" sites may contain several hundreds of personals, but they are not
sufficiently well categorised for me to be able to obtain useful numbers from
them, and some "large" sites might actually have quite low numbers on, but
are very well organised.
These were my initial points of reference, obtained from uk.people.bdsm:
These are all international sites with UK sections:
Not as thoroughly studied, but I have obtained some figures from the personals
columns in both the local free newspapers and The Independent.
Initial results and conclusions
The data from the small sites (all BDSM-oriented) and the UK section of alt.com
thoroughly supports the notion that men vastly outnumber women when it comes to
placing ads on such sites. The actual ratio of "men seeking women" to "women
seeking men" is around 25:1. Let me spell that out: for every woman interested
in BDSM placing a personal ad on the web, there are 25 men doing the
same. So, are web-based personals a waste of time for men? That's for you to
decide. What's more interesting to me is whether we can account for that figure
in any way.
The two obvious factors at play are:
Well, that explains the existence of a large male:female ratio, but even
taking the worst of those figures, it doesn't fully account for the observed
figures. Are our estimates here out, or are there other factors at play?
- More men than women are interested in BDSM activities. Informed observers
of the scene suggest that the male:female ratio here is 3 or 4 to 1.
- More men than women are online. Figures floating around the internet
suggest that the ratio in this country is 4 or 5 to 1.
Vanilla ads, on the web and in the papers
So what happens to the ratio when these two factors are removed? The answer,
perhaps surprisingly, is that there are still more men placing personals than
women. Look at the personals column in a newspaper, and you will see a
male:female ratio somewhere around 1.2:1. Assuming that the papers don't
selectively choose which personals they print in order to even the numbers up,
we can take this as a baseline figure, in the absence of technological or
lifestyle biases. (Incidentally, I have yet to see an ad in
The Independent's "alternative"
section placed by a woman.)
Turning to web-based vanilla ads, such as Dating Friendfinder and the "dating"
and "romance" sections of Webpersonals, and the ratio goes back up to over
6:1. However, this is very well explained by a combination of the baseline
figure and the online ratio given in (b) above.
UK vs. USA
Peer2Peer is a personals site set up for the benefit of geeks, techies, and
other computer literati. It's quite small (numerically) and the UK section
isn't big enough to produce statitistically meaningful data, but overall it
shows the same 6:1 ratio as noted above. Compare this with the USA section of
Dating Friendfinder which has a ratio more like 3:1. This can be explained by
noting that the online male:female ratio in America, from the same sources as
the UK figure given, is much lower, down around, you guessed it, 2½ or
3 to 1. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that the people online in
this country are still by and large those who are technically minded.
A twist in the tale
Taking our baseline figure into account, it is possible to produce a reasonable
explanation for the observed 25:1 male:female ratio observed on BDSM personals
sites. But there's a final sting to come, and that's the male:female ratio on
Adult Friendfinder and the "intimate" section of Webpersonals. It's
45:1. My tentative conclusion here is that men are more (much more!)
interested in casual sex than women -- am I falling prey to stereotypes, or do
the figures back me up?
copyright 1999 S. Arrowsmith
Last modified: Tue Apr 20 09:38:19 BST 1999