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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Editorials > Are Paid Online Dating Services Better?

Do Paid Sites Have Higher Quality Singles than Free Sites?

by James Houran, Ph.D.

(April 2009) It doesn’t surprise me that this continues to be a common question from reporters, but it does surprise and disappoint me that some industry commentators feed into this urban legend. And I mean feed into it big time.  I’ve even read one industry commentator repeatedly assert -- in a condescending tone -- that “it’s amazing how many businesses and online daters don’t get it that a paid service is a barrier to entry; a barrier that separates casual from serious daters.”

That may sound logical at face value, but a little contemplation will reveal that it’s a completely bogus mindset which is not backed up by any facts. Let’s examine this carefully. First, camouflage has been an effective trick in the animal kingdom for millennia. nicely explains this tactic: camouflage is a method of cryptic or concealing coloration that allows an otherwise visible organism or object to remain indiscernible from the surrounding environment through deception. Examples include a tiger's stripes and the battledress of a modern soldier. Moreover, camouflage includes any deceptive whereby a person or thing tries to present itself as non-threatening in order to hide its true, threatening intentions, i.e., the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”


Are we really supposed to believe that online predators, scammers and “players” or womanizers don’t use this very same tactic? Of course they do. To think otherwise is beyond naïve. In fact, when has any barrier to entry worked as a 100% effective screening tool?  Savvy scammers and players sometimes even seek out what looks to be safe havens just so they can better come across as harmless. For instance, I know of one case where a sex offender had a membership to a very popular compatibility website. A high membership fee and a long sign up process and compatibility questionnaire did not stop that person. In other words, the costs of time and money to join that website were no barrier to entry to someone who’s determined to prey on others.

But don’t just take my word for it, take time to educate yourself. One website that documents media stories about online scammers and predators is My intention is not to endorse any political agenda that associations and sites like this might have. My aim here is to point you towards documentation that “paid” dating sites are ineffective barriers to entry for daters who aren’t serious. You might be shocked to discover that paid dating sites are no guarantee that someone is a serious dater or that they’re not a scammer or a predator of some sort.

Of course, there’s an important flipside to mention as well. In particular, “free” or extremely inexpensive dating sites don’t necessarily cater only to casual daters, cheapskates or predators. Remember, many daters have profiles on more than one website, so paid memberships are not really useful in elucidating what someone’s intentions are. You can find quality daters on both free and paid websites, and you can find questionable people on both free and paid websites. Still don’t believe me?  Let’s look at some statistics about -- arguably the largest and most popular free dating site in the market today. These statistics come from the site’s owner Markus Frind (

Hitwise demographic stats for 4 weeks ending 2/7/2009

12.36% of Singlesnet users are under 25
10.15% of users are under 25
9.65% of Plentyoffish users are under 25
7.28% of Down-to-earth  users are under 25

Hitwise income statistics for 4 weeks ending 2/7/2009

4.11% of Singlesnet  users make over $150,000 a year
5.05% of users make over $150,000 a year
6.23% of Eharmony users make over $150,000 a year
12.37% of Plentyoffish users make over $150,000 a year

These statistics suggest that most daters using the free website are more mature, well to do individuals. In fact, it seems that people of higher socioeconomic status use more than or eHarmony which are more premium, paid sites!

I suppose I should go all out now and say that you can also find both sincere and questionable people on the mega social networking sites as well, like Facebook, Friendfinder, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. It comes down to this simple premise: the online world mimics the offline world in many ways. You have a multitude of people interacting but with different, and sometimes conflicting, agendas. This happens at concerts, amusement parks, malls, museums, coffee houses, colleges and universities and basically anywhere where many people come together and have the opportunity to flirt. Since this is the case, be cognizant at all time and on all dating sites about what you do. My motto remains as relevant as ever…”in matters of the heart, use your head.”



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