Dating isn't an exact science - people can hit it off at a nightclub, a workplace, or with a right swipe on their phone - but how important are traits like education to us in the online dating sphere?

New research has found that online daters are most likely to contact potential mates with the same level of education as them, but this starts to waver later in life.

The study, conducted by researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, is one of the largest ever behavioural economic analyses of Australian's online dating habits, looking at over 41,000 people over a four-month period.

"Selecting a mate can be one of the largest psychological and economic decisions a person can make and has long been the subject of social science research across a range of disciplines, all of which acknowledge one phenomenon: positive assortative mating behaviour (homogamy)," said one of the researchers, QUT behavioural economist Stephen Whyte.

Homogamy in sociology means that people tend to look for partners that are similar to themselves when they're choosing a potential mate.

But how does the internet affect things?

Although dating before the internet would have been mainly based on a person's location, race, age, and attractiveness – parameters that are still very much in play now – online dating has allowed us to be even pickier with our potential spouse.

"Cyber dating permits multiple partner choices in real time, which allows for a significantly greater available choice of potential mates. This increased pool means greater opportunity for selection of partners with lower, similar or even higher levels of certain characteristics," said Whyte.

"This includes education, which is commonly used in human mating behaviour as a proxy for resources and future provision as it can represent economic advantages."

Although education level played a big role in who people chose, this appeared to change with age.

"The more educated cohort tends to care less about matching the same level of education as they get older," Whyte explained.

"Older women in particular have a greater likelihood of contacting potential partners who are less educated than themselves but conversely, younger males fall into this category as well."

The study looked at 41,936 members aged 18 to 80 years old, and gives an interesting look into how the internet has changed the way we date.

"Traditionally, humans look for certain characteristics and traits in a partner, including symmetry in areas such as: age, aesthetics, attractiveness, personality, culture, education, religion and race; however the internet has dramatically altered this process," said Whyte.

"The internet has completely changed how people choose dating partners to find love. Our study is a step towards understanding how technology is impacting on mate choice decisions based on education."

Considering online dating isn't going anywhere soon, it's pretty cool to figure out how many of us are selecting our potential mates. 

The research was published in Personality and Individual Differences.

Queensland University of Technology is a sponsor of ScienceAlert. Find out more about their research.