Are paid dating sites better than free ones?

online dating

Finding your perfect match online. To pay or not to pay, that is the question. Image: jenny downing/Flickr/CC BY

Looking for love on line is convenient, relatively easy and allows love-seekers to meet more potential matches much more quickly than would be possible otherwise. But it can also get expensive, even before the dating begins, if you choose to use a paid dating site over one of the free ones. But is the expense worth it? Do paid dating sites give members a better shot at finding a match than their unpaid competitors?

Do you get what you pay for on dating sites?

The most common argument for using paid sites, like or eHarmony, is that they attract a more earnest membership. People who have an investment in what they are doing tend to take it more seriously. Conversely, since members on unpaid sites, such as OKCupid and Plenty of Fish, have no monetary investment, there may be more apathetic member profiles. There are also likely to be far more inactive ones.

That means you may spend more time on free sites, going through more profiles in your search for a compatible match. You have to weigh what that time is worth to you.

In his paper “The differences between paid and free online dating websites,” Jeffrey Stafford, PhD, likens unpaid sites to social media platforms like Facebook; that is, they more about casual meeting than serious matchmaking. He concluded that unpaid sites are better if you are just looking to date, where as the paid variety are preferable for those looking for marriage. But that seems too broad to me. What is certainly true is that, if a certain level of money and status matter to you, you will likely have better odds on a paid site.

Paying for communication limitations

Paid sites may ask for more personal kinds of information in building a match profile than do free sites, however. And they put more restrictions on how or when you can communicate with others, which is frustrating because one expect more freedom for their investment, not less.

Often, these sites require prospective matches to jump through several hoops before they can actually chat with each other. It may take even longer before they can exchange personal contact information. These sites have a vested interest in keeping your chat going through their portal for as long as they can.

Fewer predators

A great argument for the paid variety, however, is as a filter against predators. While internet opportunists certainly trawl on the paid sites, too, there is likely to be a greater percentage of them where little investment is required.

Take advantage of free trials

Most paid sites offer free trials, which are a great way to see if you like what they have to offer for the money. Simultaneously, I would suggest also putting a profile up on one of the free sites and see which is most effective for you.

Love is a crapshoot

On the other hand, some say it makes little difference which site you choose, or none at all. According to a piece published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, “The heavy emphasis on profile browsing at most dating sites has considerable downsides, and there is little reason to believe that current compatibility algorithms are especially effective.”

Gregory Ferenstein, in a piece written for TechCrunch,  said that dating is and always will be a numbers game. And whether you roll the dice online or in a single’s bars, the odds are long.

“Online dating, professional matchmaking, hitting on girls at parties — statistically speaking, they’re all hit or miss in the blind search for that special someone. And usually more miss than hit,” Ferenstein wrote.


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