Do divorced love-seekers incur a penalty on the dating market?
Divorce is usually neither easy nor enjoyable. It is also not uncommon. Roughly 40% of American married couples eventually divorce. For those who must go through the painful process, rejoining the dating market can be difficult. And not just emotionally. The dating pool for even marginally older love-seekers is likely smaller. We also wondered whether unfavorable perceptions of being divorced make it even harder?
On the one hand, divorce is common enough that it may not be a surprising characteristic. Many couples simply separate due to unforeseen incompatibilities. On the other hand, the divorced status may conjure questions around whether or not the person was at fault for the divorce, and whether he or she might carry those issues to the new potential relationship.
So we wondered, does being divorced make it harder to find a date? And do divorced people themselves view divorced love-seekers as more or less desirable? Let’s put some science to this question.
We conducted an experiment with 400 people on Amazon Mechanical Turk in which participants were shown a simplified hypothetical dating profile with the relationship status randomized to be either single or divorced.
Participants were instructed to read the following text.
Imagine you’re looking for a relationship, so you decide to use an online dating app. You come across the dating profile below. This person is the gender you are interested in, and is fairly attractive.
Relationship Status: [Single / Divorced]
Participants were then asked “How much would you want to go on a date with this person? (1 = Not at all, 7 = Extremely)” using a 1-7 scale.
The results revealed a significant negative effect of being divorced on desirability to date (p = 0.001). Participants were less likely to want to date our fictitious love-seeker when the relationship status was divorced (avg. = 4.45) versus single (avg. = 4.95). This half-point drop of about 10% was a small-to-medium effect size, about a third of a standard deviation.
We did not find any interactions between our results and participants’ gender, age, or relationship status. Participants who are actually divorced in real life did not find our divorced love-seeker any more desirable to date than our other participants (p = 0.746).
This is one of those studies where we acknowledge a painful truth. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many divorced people remarry. And knowing that this slightly unfavorably perception exists may help divorced love-seekers pro-actively manage those perceptions.
We used an independent samples t-test to test for significant differences in perceptions between our two experimental conditions. For significant differences, the difference between the two groups' averages would be large and its corresponding “p-value” would be small. If the p-value is less than 0.05, we consider the difference statistically significant, meaning we'd likely find a similar effect if we ran the study again with this population. To test for significant interactions between the main results and participant demographics, we used OLS regression analyses with interaction terms.