Subscribe to our newsletter

     By signing up, you agree to our Terms Of Use.


    • About Us
    • |
    • Contribute
    • |
    • Contact Us
    • |
    • Sitemap

    In China, Dating Apps for Elites Are All About Class

    A new generation of dating services is promising to match singles based on their educational background. Does it really work?

    The university you attend can shape the future course of your life in China. That’s as true on the dating market as it is in the workplace: Graduates of top schools prefer to date and marry people from similar educational backgrounds, a practice known as educational homogamy.

    If you meet your partner in university, this is easy enough. But what about after? One of China’s first dating sites, Shiji Jiayuan, launched in the early 2000s with a marketing strategy aimed at connecting singles with at least a bachelor’s degree. But given the continuous expansion of higher education over the past 20 years, educated daters have begun to seek out more exclusive alternatives. Today, there’s an entire ecosystem of platforms and apps like Mosheng Huakai and Qingteng Zhilian open only to alumni of elite institutions in China and abroad. Some even require new users verify their degrees before activating their accounts.

    To better understand how these sites are changing China’s dating market, I worked with two scholars to study one of the country’s oldest and largest online dating platforms serving educational elites. Founded in 2015, Happy Elites — a pseudonym — promises users a rigorous screening process to ensure only alumni of top-tier schools can access the platform. Management emphasizes that the site should be by elites, for elites, and staff often come from similar educational backgrounds as the users.

    Education isn’t always enough to signal compatibility, but it can narrow the field. Our analysis of dating profiles posted to the site reads like a primer on elite reproduction in China. The profiles include extensive detail on members’ privileged family backgrounds, their appreciation for strict parenting styles, and references to the kind of rich, varied life experiences available only to the wealthy and well educated. Cultural capital is signaled through mentions of time-consuming hobbies, as well as stated preferences for “soulmates” with shared tastes, interests, and lifestyles.

    One of the most common motifs in Happy Elites profiles was a healthy lifestyle. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu once observed that healthy lifestyles are a kind of embodiment of cultural capital, and our study suggests a strong connection in users’ minds between physical and mental fitness. Many users required matches who did not smoke or drink, who went to the gym often, or were early risers. Others talked about their parents — “strict but loving” — and upbringings surrounded by literature and art.

    In interviews, Happy Elites staff argued that the platform’s emphasis on educational homogamy was the correct approach, claiming that its matching success rate was significantly higher than those of traditional dating sites. “People with similar educational backgrounds are more likely to be similar in family background, upbringing, and hobbies, so they match more easily,” one Happy Elites matchmaker told us. “Users with disparate traits have not been successfully matched on our platform.”

    Rather than dilute the importance of a person’s background on the dating market, the massive increase in university enrollment since the late 1990s has intensified the role of educational prestige in modern relationships. Graduates of elite institutions are still more likely to come from urban families with high economic and social capital.

    This is reflected in the statistics Happy Elites publishes about its users: The site claims that, as of April 2022, 45.3% of male and 24.1% of female users have an annual income over 500,000 yuan ($69,000). Consider that the average income of China’s top 20% of earners was 85,800 yuan in 2021, it becomes clear that the platform is matching economic elites in the guise of educational homogamy.

    That has significant ramifications for China’s future. Elite education can be understood as a kind of filter in assortative mating. The dating profiles we analyzed indicate that most of the daters on Happy Elites came from middle-class family backgrounds, leading to the union of two privileged families. Well-educated couples are also more likely to transmit their status to their children, sending them to high-quality but expensive schools to ensure they stay ahead of their peers.

    All of this is detrimental to social mobility. While there’s no easy fix, one possible option would be to reconsider the current, highly stratified higher education system, prioritizing non-elite universities for additional funding and closing the gaps between them and their elite peers.

    This article was adapted from a paper published by the Chinese Sociological Review.

    (Header image: Juanma Hache/VCG)