A growing number of Baby Boomers are turning to online dating sites to make romantic connections. But how do they choose to describe themselves in their online profiles, and which qualities do they value most in a potential partner?
Recent research based on online dating profiles sheds light on those questions and reveals some intriguing gender-related differences.
Researchers at the gerontology program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio conducted an analysis of 200 online dating profiles from people age 60 and up. The information was taken from an equal number of men and women from two sites: Match.com and OurTime.com.
First they developed a detailed coding system to identify key words and phrases that were used most often in descriptions of what people were seeking in a partner and what they highlighted in describing themselves.
They then compared the similarities and differences—some of which were striking—in what men and women chose to emphasize in their online dating profiles (see chart below).
What men want, what women want
In describing which qualities they were looking for in a potential dating partner, honesty topped the list for women but it didn’t even appear in the top five qualities mentioned by men.
Based on their top five lists, both sexes were seeking someone who would be a compassionate and fun-loving companion. But men also frequently specified they wanted to find someone who was physically attractive and affectionate—characteristics that were absent from women’s top five.
“Women said a lot more in their profiles than men did, and they were looking first and foremost for a man who was honest,” says Wendy Watson, Ph.D., who conducted the research along with Charles Stelle, Ph.D. “Men more often discussed attractiveness and specific physical characteristics they were looking for: essentially a pretty woman who was not overweight.”
When talking about themselves, both men and women most often said they were fun-loving and described their favorite leisure activities, ranging from playing cards or watching TV to gardening, golfing, or taking walks.
But other characteristics were prioritized differently. For instance, men tended to describe themselves in terms of income and possessions more often than women did.
Just as interesting was what was not in the top five list for men and women in this age group: references to whether people were looking for a casual or long-term relationship or even marriage. “A few specified they were not looking to get remarried, but for most, the approach was more open-ended—we’ll just see where it goes,” Stelle says.
And that dovetails with earlier research that Watson and Stelle co-authored. They found that single women had a different attitude about dating than when they were younger and were more interested in having it lead to marriage.
“At this stage in life, especially for women who have been a caregiver for a deceased spouse, independence is very important,” Watson says. Older women often were the ones who were marriage-shy, her research found.
One woman explained that she liked having a dating companion with whom she could do things she enjoyed, but she “didn’t need a man to be happy” and would consider a long-term relationship, but “definitely not" marriage.
Andrea Rock is freelance journalist who specializes in health topics. Her work has earned her the American Academy of Family Physicians Award for Outstanding Journalistic Achievement In Reporting and Writing on Family Medicine and Health Care, the National Magazine Award for Journalism in the Public Interest, and the Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting. She was a senior writer and editor for Consumer Reports for more than a decade, and is the author of The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Money, SELF, O Magazine, and Ladies’ Home Journal.