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.

Source data

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:
  1. I'm not being serious enough to cope with the sheer volume of data including the USA would generate
  2. It started in a uk.* newsgroup
  3. Maybe I'll get lucky...
but the occasional US data point makes for interesting comparisons.

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.

Small

These were my initial points of reference, obtained from uk.people.bdsm:

Large

These are all international sites with UK sections:

Other Media

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:

  1. 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.
  2. More men than women are online. Figures floating around the internet suggest that the ratio in this country is 4 or 5 to 1.
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?

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