On Wednesday, the dating app Tinder announced that it will be implementing the feature that’s most often requested by its users: adding information on job and education to profiles. On its blog, Tinder, which logs 1.6 billion profile views per day, said that this would allow users to make “more informed choices” when deciding which way to swipe.
Sean Rad, the CEO of Tinder, told Business Insider that violating dating’s “natural” circumstances had gotten too gimmicky; letting users include their professional and educational background was a move to make the app more closely resemble how people meet in real life. Tinder seems to be sending the message that it would like to be less of a hookup-coordinating app—in which LinkedIn-style details are much less relevant—than a matchmaking app. In fact, Tinder has played up the fact that swiping right can lead to marriage, and has taken credit for at least 1,000 engagements.
It’s too bad that Tinder is going the way of traditional dating—because if meeting people in real life is so great, why would anyone be using a dating app in the first place? Part of the appeal of Tinder is that it subtracts most personal details from the mating equation, leaving users to exercise their snap judgment in evaluating a curated parade of photos. Including professional and educational background makes Tinder more like traditional meet-ups, in which people tend to, whether they know it or not, encounter and pair off with people from similar economic backgrounds.
And that’s the funny thing: Tinder’s new feature isn’t new at all. It’s how people have been matching with each other for at least 50 years—by educational and professional background. In fact, Tinder’s relative randomness—it throws geographical proximity into the mix of its matching algorithm—broke those traditional confines that still guide the marriage market today.
Researchers call the tendency people have of marrying those with similar jobs and degrees “assortative mating.” A paper last year from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at Census data from 1960 to 2005 and found that the degree of assortative mating based on education has increased—as more women graduate from college, more and more college graduates are marrying each other. (Before this period, marriage was still an economic decision, but focused more on companionship and sharing resources between families.) It’s no coincidence that during the late 20th century, income inequality among married couples also increased. Assortative mating isn’t unethical, but when it happens at an increasing rate, that does mean that the possibility of social mobility through marriage gets smaller.
There are, of course, plenty of problems with letting users rely on their gut instincts. For one thing, they have a troublesome preference for some skin tones over others. Plus, whether they know it or not, users are probably scrutinizing others' pictures for signals of socioeconomic status anyway. Still, split-second evaluations made Tinder a place where it felt like anything could happen, but now it will be guided by many of the same rules as dating and marriage in real life, with all their additional cognitive layers. That’s pretty boring, but, as Tinder hopes, might end up resulting in more matches.
Rudder shares some of his discoveries and discusses “who we are when we think no one’s looking.”