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But that's not zero. Finkel said that this strategy seems "rational" given the low costs of sending a message online. But it might play out very differently in person -- at a party, for example -- where you can see who's surrounded by wooers and "redirect your attention to other prospects," he said.

What this looks like, practically speaking, is that "most people receive a handful of messages at most, but a small fraction of the population receive far more," the researchers wrote.

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When it comes to education, for men, more is better. While researchers did not reveal the end to this lady's love story, they did find that the majority of daters on the site tended to reach out to people who were ranked higher than themselves.

Race plays heavily into the results, with Asian women and white men being the most sought after overall. Men, however, peak around age Not so for women, whose desirability peaks with an undergraduate degree but takes a hit with postgraduate education -- even when correcting for age.

Hardly anyone reached out to people who ranked significantly lower than themselves. But taking a scientific look at the phenomenon gives cause for difieren yahoo dating, according to lead author Elizabeth Bruch, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

People have probably been pining for unattainable love interests since the dawn of time. But how does all this effort -- the browsing, swiping and careful crafting of messages -- play out when you meet IRL?

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When there is a big gap in desirability between online daters, "there is a pronounced drop in the probability of reply," said the report. In most cases, these long-shots fell short.

They also tended to send lengthier messages to people deemed higher on the desirability ladder. But even though the response rate is low, our analysis shows that 21 percent of people who engage in this aspirational behavior do get replies from a mate who is out of their league, so perseverance pays off.

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Online dating lowers self-esteem and increases depression, studies say Read More In messaging women higher up the ladder, the best men can hope for, on average, is a reply to one out of every five messages. Bruch measured "desirability" by looking at how many messages a user received and how popular the senders were.

It might be energy wasted, the study suggests; the payoff was minimal overall. To rank online daters from least to most desirable, she used the same algorithm that Google's search engine uses.

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That's "in real life," for those less familiar with internet parlance. The researchers did not name the dating service due to a nondisclosure agreement they signed with the company, Bruch said.

The study found that the higher up we reach, the longer our messages tend to get -- and the less likely we'll get a message back. That number for me was really striking. And only in Seattle were there signs that long letters were more successful than short messages at getting a potential mate to respond.

That averages to one message every 30 minutes, around the clock. Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter "The fact that somebody is appealing or unappealing in an online dating profile isn't particularly useful in predicting how compatible you'll be with that person when you meet face to face," said Finkel, also the author of "The All-Or-Nothing Marriage.

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People's desirability was determined using a ranking algorithm based on how many messages they received from other popular users on a dating site in New York, Seattle, Boston and Chicago. And all that effort you put into crafting a lengthier message? Using this PageRank algorithm, which is employed by web search engines, researchers could establish a person's "league," which they scientifically coined "hierarchies of desirability.

More Americans living without partners, especially young adults Other trends emerged: A woman's average desirability begins to drop from the time she's Finkel was not involved in the newly published research.

An unidentified year-old woman in New York who received 1, messages in just one month.