Why Dating Site Profile Pictures Differ

Gender and age differences in dating site photos.

Posted Jul 24, 2018

  • About 20 percent of all pictures in online dating are selfies.
  • The average male American online dater is 5’8’’ tall, bearded, and has black hair.
  • The average female American online dater has long brown hair and is 5’5’’ tall.
  • More than 80% of online dating profile pictures of people posing with luxury vehicles are of men.
  • The gender ratio of online daters with wedding photos and pictures with children in them is nearly equal.
  • About 13% of all profile pictures are group photos.

Your profile picture is the first thing potential dates see when they browse your online profile and it is therefore important to get it right. After all, it is vital to make a good first impression, and the way in which one grabs the attention of a potential date depends on the way in which you present yourself in your profile. 

Nejron/Shutterstock
Source: Nejron/Shutterstock

In the first study of its kind, online dating experts Dating Scout investigated the types of features online daters include in their profile pictures. To do this, they analyzed over 22 million profile pictures from the U.S. and 15 other countries. They used an artificial intelligence technique to scan profile pictures for around 6,000 characteristics—for example, facial expressions, pictures featuring animals, and pictures using different backgrounds. One finding from this extensive study was gender differences in the ways in which people present themselves. In this post, we look at some of those findings.

How men present themselves

As seen above, many men use pictures of themselves engaging in sporting activities or showing off prize possessions such as cars. In addition, the study found that the average number of photos uploaded is four. In terms of male appearance generally, 11.5% show off their chest muscles. One third of male profile pictures show men with beards, and 13% show males wearing glasses or sunglasses. However, only 5% of the pictures scanned in this study featured males who were smiling.

To present themselves in a more attractive way and enhance their masculine side, men often attempt to reveal their athletic sides. Additionally, it seems that a love of big cars is something males tend to show off in online profiles. For example, profile pictures with pickup trucks are extremely popular among certain age groups.

As men get older (35 to 44), there is evidence that their online dating profiles change and begin to show themselves possessing intellectual expertise — musical talent, for example — or behaving in a way which indicates some degree of relationship commitment. Between ages 45 and 54, men start to present themselves as being laid back or the type to "live it up" a little, with images that feature palm trees, flags, or morning skies in the background. Finally, the study discovered that even at age 55 and over, men illustrate that they still want to continue with a good and healthy lifestyle, with photos of them running marathons or swimming still featured at this age.

How women present themselves

Blackday/Shutterstock
Source: Blackday/Shutterstock

The Dating Scout study showed that in the U.S. at least, women post between six and nine profile pictures, with the average being five. One or two pictures is probably not enough to show how a person may look, while 10 or more may be starting to give away too much. In terms of female appearance, long hair was featured over 27% of the time, with detectable evident in just 13.4% of photos. The study also found that muscles were shown 4.5% of the time, while freckles and body piercings were hardly ever evident. 

In terms of age group, 18-to-24-year-olds often appeared in their profile photos as cheerleaders, which is consistent with what women in this age group may be doing. What is rather perplexing is that some women in this age group also appeared with hedgehogs. Other characteristics were photos playing volleyball wearing miniskirts, and images in which women were wearing swimsuits. Moving on to the 25-to-34-year-old age group, the study revealed that women often appear wearing satin and feminine dresses while holding stylish handbags. Interestingly in this age group women start to post photos of themselves as bridesmaids, and the wedding might be a subtle hint that they are looking for a longer-term relationship, or more plausibly, that they associate with a peer group who are getting married. Other common characteristics at this age are women wearing cocktail dresses and academic dress, which is indicative of the age at which they are graduating. In the 35-to-44-year-old age group, women tend to feature themselves looking stylish, with many photos showing red carpets. Also in this age group, sporting activities such as climbing, track and field events, and skiing and water sports are displayed, in addition to travel photos. Entering the 45-to-54-year-old age group, cowboy hats and Christmas feature highly in female profile pictures; in terms of sporting activities, swimming, bodybuilding, sailing, and running still feature.  Finally, in the 55-and-over group, food, family, and pets feature more heavily, as well as images indicating a cultured side with photos of museums and art photography. Females in this age group use more professionally taken photos and fewer selfies.

Group photos

Daters do not just upload photos of themselves; 18.5% of photos in the study were of people in the company of their friends or family. This has the advantage of illustrating that one is not a loner and is reasonably skilled at socializing. (Obviously, however, you don’t want potential dates to find the people in your photo more attractive than you.) Overall, 54% of females post pictures with other people, compared to 45% of men.

Those looking for a serious long-term relationship can indicate this in their dating profile. It is possible that online daters who post pictures of themselves as groomsmen or bridesmaids are sending out a subtle message that they associate with friends who are getting married and that they may be ready to do so themselves. Dating Scout also speculates that even being considered as a groomsman or a bridesmaid in itself is sending a signal that one is considered important enough by others for such a role. Around 56% of males appear in weeding photographs compared to 44% women, with these numbers decreasing, as people get older. 

Similarly, and at the right age, posing in a photo with a child could be interpreted as a subtle signal that a person wants children of his or her own. Around 47% of males and 53% of females display children in their dating profiles, with the numbers decreasing with age.

Overall, the gender and age differences in profile pictures are consistent with and support what evolutionary psychology says about the ways in which males and females of different ages advertise themselves to the opposite sex. It is possible of course, that these findings may differ across different dating platforms; future research could tackle this question. Further, we have to consider exactly what people want from a relationship, and that the ways in which they promote themselves may depend on whether they want a long-term relationship or a short-term liaison.  Finally, we all need to take note that it is fine to advertise yourself in a certain way in a dating profile, but don’t show yourself looking like you are swimming if you can’t swim, or playing a guitar if you can’t. Dating profile pictures are important in making a first impression, but be truthful.

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