OKCupid: Mentioning Atheism Leads to Higher Response Rates

Dating website OKCupid ran an analysis of emails sent by people making first-contact with someone else. They wanted to know which words/phrases were more or less likely to generate a response from the other person. (They compared all results to the overall average response rate of 32%.)

We analyzed over 500,000 first contacts on our dating site, OkCupid. Our program looked at keywords and phrases, how they affected reply rates, and what trends were statistically significant. The result: a set of rules for what you should and shouldn’t say when introducing yourself online.

There are some obvious results. Don’t spell like a teenage moron. Don’t use the word “sexy” or “beautiful” in your first email (I assume it makes the recipient uncomfortable). It helps to point out a shared, possibly-unique interest (e.g. Vegetarianism, tattoos, grad school, etc).

But this is the bit that stood out:

Mentioning your religion helps you, but, paradoxically, it helps you most if you have no religion. We know that’s going to piss a lot of people off, and we’re more or less tongue-in-cheek with this advice, but it’s what the numbers say.

In other words, if you bring up your atheism, you have a better-than-average chance of getting a reply! Mention god and your response rate goes down.

There are unanswered questions: We don’t know how “atheist” and “god” are used in the emails (perhaps they say, “I hate atheists” or “I hate god”). Perhaps atheists are more likely to be drawn to OKCupid than theists. (It’s not like you’ll meet a ton of atheists on eHarmony.)

But it’s encouraging to know that, at least on one dating site, being an atheist may not be such a liability.

(via Saint Gasoline)

  • Christophe Thill

    If I was on a meeting site, I wouldn’t like the idea that the webmasters play with my e-mails.

  • Dietra

    This is a great to know. Maybe the xians are meeting each other in church and the atheists need to turn to the interwebs.

    The biggest thing that makes me go eeewww, and it happens WAY more than I could have ever imagined. Men who put in a cheesy webcam picture where they obviously have no shirt on. I can’t help but think that they are probably naked at their computer, trying to find a date. What a creepy turn off.

  • Sven

    Maybe xtrians are praying for a date?
    Oh.. I get it, they already have the love of their lifes. There’s no need for an internet date when you know Jebus loves you.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    Whatever else you do on a dating site, it’s better to be honest than not. Eventually, if things go well with someone, they’re going to learn that you’re not 24, 6’4″, graced with a model-quality chiseled face, and built like an Olympic swimmer. So don’t put up the picture of Michael Phelps and try to pass it off as yourself. Same thing about atheism – if you’re an atheist, don’t try to hide it.

  • http://www.dwasifar.com dwasifar

    Anyone who’s had the experience of a relationship with an evangelical or fundamentalist knows that the conversion attempts never stop. It’s like when one of them sits down next to you on a train, except the train ride lasts for months or years.

    That is as much explanation as I need for why atheists are more popular on dating sites.

  • Matt

    I would have to agree with the findings – I found my gf on there, and my listing was openly atheist. We’ve been together for over a year, so I’d like to think that the site does a decent job. Hello, free OKC advertisement!

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Unfortunately, I think there is also a negative interpretation to this: atheists are so insular that they’re least likely to look outside their own group.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    Also, we don’t know if the replies were generally positive. For all we know, people only reply to try to convert the atheists or something.

  • http://peacefulatheist.wordpress.com Lily

    For all we know, people only reply to try to convert the atheists or something.

    That was my thought too.

  • Doreen

    I’ve actually been a member on OKC since 2005. It’s a great site and not just for dates. It’s probably the best free site to meet new people.

    I did see that info in their blog and it made me happy. There are quite a few atheists and agnostics on the site, possibly due to being excluded elsewhere. I think the reason why “atheist” is the highest mentioned word there is because of the recent movement of atheists reaching out to each other and the fact that it’s hard for atheists to meet other atheists in real life simply because we’re so outnumbered. I’ve gotten quite a few first messages and sent a few first messages that included the word “atheist”, so I guess I’m part of contributing to that number.

    I had OKC to thank for a two year relationship at one point, and he was also an atheist.

  • Mark C.

    Well, I’m currently a member of OkCupid. My messages have all had “Hello!” as the subject line, and I’ve never mentioned religion or atheism within the the message. No one’s responded to my messages, though I did manage to have an IM conversation with one person on there… who logged out after every subsequent time I tried to IM her. I must come across as creepy or something… I readily admit that my online social skills lag behind my in-person ones, which aren’t the best, either.

    But yeah, I’m on there because of my relationship history and because… well, I’m in Kansas, haha.

  • ZombieGirl

    I joined OKCupid as an experiment after you mentioned it on your site (because I have no idea what dating sites are like.) I used the name “atheist chick” because I thought it would turn a lot of people off. I used a picture of me which wasn’t terrible, but it was definitely not my best one, and I was very honest about myself and told people I wasn’t there for hookups….I got 30 messages in about two weeks or so, and maybe around 25 instant messages in the few minutes I actually spent on that website….O___O

    I wonder if that is normal for a dating site or not. I cancelled or suspended my account (forgot which I did) because it’s soooo much damn effort.

  • ZombieGirl

    And for the record, nobody tried to convert me at all. :D Yay.

  • http://www.DangerousTalk.net DangerousTalk

    Actually, my brother went on eHarmony and met a ton of atheists. So while it was created by Christians, atheists seem to be attracted to the quasi-scientific compatibility thing. I recently wrote a story on this for the Examiner.

  • http://philaxiom.info Bruce Long

    Maybe I need to get an extreme makeover, but this doesn’t agree with my personal experience. I do have three kids and don’t want more – and that makes a big difference. However, I make a polite note in my profile (not on OKCupid) to the effect that religious and spiritual people need not contact me. This seems to act as rather a deterent.

    What is the case, then? My experience does not seem to bear out the OkCupid results. There is one speculation I can make (VERY speculative.) I make it on the basis that OKCupid reports the biggest no no as including contact email details in one’s initial contact, but this doesn’t really compute, since:

    A. This is the opposite in my personal experience. Many people want you to email ASAP
    B. It doesn’t make sense – because people do not HAVE to email you externally
    C. It would affect the dating site’s bottom line for everyone to bug out after ‘first contact’ – yes?

    So – maybe they have also cottoned on to the fact that atheists don’t do so well in their sites – and they are trying to encourage we heathen to get in there and take the ‘hits’.

    Like I said – speculative.

    Bruce.

  • Miko

    So, how would saying “I’m an atheist, but I believe in god” affect response rates?

    Also curious that “allah” is positive” while “god” is negative.

  • Erik R.

    My wife and I met on eHarmony and we’re both Atheists. I can’t say that there are that many, but probably more than you might think.

  • klean

    As a long time user of okcupid I can tell you that the number of female athiest using the site is few. I suspect most people prefer to avoid a sermon and maintain their personal beliefs.
    Those with religion often have a hard time defining and understanding the athiest and equate it to devil worship. The.mention of it may be like a train wreck for the rubber-necker.

  • http://commanderofall.blogspot.com/ CommanderOfAll

    Mentioning atheism leads to positive responses on OKcupid, but it leads to negative responses on eHarmony, Match.com, and in many real-life social gatherings. OKcupid is once again proving exceptional and (dare I say it?) smart.

    P.S. — Male atheists are always complaining about the lack of women atheists, but female atheists are always complaining that male atheists are married to religious chicks. Why is it? Could it be because male atheists give up too soon and settle too early?

    • Chas

      A lot of smarter women are self-sufficient and often do not end up getting married (aka Athiests).  They are a bit more intimidating (less datable) as well.

      Also, there’s not as compelling of a reason to get married when you have no religion.  If the woman is not pressuring the man to get married, it might not happen, and so the stats would be skewed.

  • Foster

    My guess as to why “God” is a turnoff is that the gal or guy is thinking, “Okay, so God wants us to be together, but what do *you* want?”  There’s a time and a place for everything, and the dating site is not ideal for declaring Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, although mentioning Christian is short and sweet.  

    Also, people who identify as “atheists” are more likely to have higher socioeconomic status and thus be more attractive possible mates, whereas lower class non-theist people tend to identify as “no religion,” or “not religious.”  Christians of high and low class all tend to use the word, and this may explain why “Christian” falls short to “atheist” despite Christians’ numerical advantage.  If this is a controlling factor, then we would expect that as more non-theists identify as “atheist” on account of the term’s reported success, the success rate in terms of replies will go down.


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