In the 1950s, dating etiquette decreed that the man had to initiate all interactions. Although much has changed since then, many women continue to believe they will end up with a higher quality man if they don’t appear too eager. You might think the tech savvy women who turn to the internet to search for partners would be less inhibited, but in a recent study using 6 months of online dating data from a midsized Southwestern city (N=8,259 men, 6,274 women), my coauthors and I found that women send 4 times fewer messages than men.

But the payoffs for violating older gender conventions are significant. A woman who initiates a contact is twice as likely to get a favorable response from a potential partner as a man who does so. And women who take the initiative connect with equally desirable partners as women who wait to be asked, without having to wade through a pile of less desirable suitors.

University of Texas sociologist Shannon Cavanagh studies online dating and analyzes hundreds of thousands of messages between partners.

Originally printed February 11, 2015