No, There Aren't Plenty of Fish in the Sea: Statistics Don't Lie

It is perhaps the most commonly repeated piece of relationship advice. "There are plenty of fish in the sea" has been uttered by those helping friends through breakup and rejection and by those frustrated with dating to soothe themselves. But is it true? Given the complexities in compatibility and attractiveness, I would say no. The number of fish is likely much smaller than people actually believe.

Since dating is just a "numbers game" allow me to actually do some numerical calculations for you.

Calculating How Many 'Fish' There Actually Are

So let’s begin with the most obvious figure. There are roughly 7.4 billion people on Earth. According to US demographics, around 7% are within reasonable range of my age (22), leaving 518 million.

Next, I’m heterosexual, so we must naturally eliminate the males from this pool. For most populations, the natural male/female ratio is 1.05 males/females, so we can eliminate around 51%, leaving 253 million.

Obviously, the sexual orientation of this pool has to be taken into consideration, so around 1.7% can be removed since this is roughly the percentage that identify as lesbian. This leaves 249 million.

Now comes the issue of height. I’m around 5’9” (roughly average) and while I would date a girl taller than me, I can safely assume that most girls would be uncomfortable with this, so they will also be eliminated. According to US statistics, around 3.8% of females are taller than me. Eliminating that demographic leaves 240 million.

Rough calculations (based on US statistics) from online forums suggest that about 25% of people are effectively single, which dramatically reduces the aforementioned number to 60 million. Note: This assumes that being in a relationship is not dependent on any of the other factors used in this calculation.

While this may be inaccurate, let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that I am of average attractiveness, meaning that I could potentially date anyone at or below average physical attractiveness. This limits the pool to 30 million. Note: People often want their partner to be of similar physical attractiveness to themselves. This value is hence very generous. Furthermore it is likely that for someone very attractive or very ugly, the odds would decrease significantly.

The language barrier wouldn’t be much of an issue for me since people I am compatible with are likely highly educated (and hence, probably speak English). For some, where this isn’t necessarily the case, the language barrier can be a significant problem. Around 38% of the world population can converse relatively well in English, so for English speakers their pool is now limited to around 11.5 million.

As for the somewhat contentious issue of intelligence, taking the simple approach and assuming my intelligence is roughly average and that I could be compatible with anyone 1 standard deviation away from me, leaves about 70% which reduces the pool to around 8 million. Note: According to intelligence tests and academic performance, I'm actually 2 - 4 standard deviations above the mean, so this figure is very conservative in my case. See the note below.

Important Note: Using the 1 standard deviation difference rule seems reasonable to me (though it is very unscientific and simplistic). However, using it clearly creates significant difficulties for those in the higher (or lower) brackets of intelligence. Those that are average have the most options using this methodology (around 70% pool availability). Someone 1 standard deviation above the mean would be limited to around 50%. Someone 2 standard deviations above the mean would be limited to around 15.7%. Three standard deviations, and likely only 2.2% will be compatible and so forth.

In my opinion, the aforementioned factors are the bare minimum in establishing compatibility. Once these criteria are met, there is a whole slew of other factors like culture, faith, interests, sexual compatibility, etc. An anecdotal figure which may or may not be accurate is 5%. That is, 5% of people who meet these basic requirements will be compatible enough with you so as to actually consider a relationship with them. This reduces the figure to a rather puny 400000.

Assuming that one were to live in a relatively large city of about 1 million, this means a pool of roughly 50 people (without correcting for urban demographics and the cultural/lingual homogeneity of the city). That’s it. Even without the unscientific 5% added for overall compatibility, the pool is still relatively small with only around 1000 people present in a city of 1 million.

In a city of 1 million, there may be as little as 50 people whom you are compatible with. This number may be much smaller for those with rarer personality traits, are very attractive and/or very intelligent.

For the rare individual that is above average in terms of both appearance and intelligence, the pool could shrink to as little as 10 people in a large city.

Pinpointing a Better Compatibility Figure

The 5% figure used earlier was at best a guess and will likely differ from person to person. It may be instructive to actually calculate a more specific value and I’ll use myself as an example, just as a sort of sanity check.

The first thing that is relatively important to me is that I don’t drink alcohol. It would probably be better for me and the other person involved if we shared this trait. According to US statistics around 30% of people don’t drink.

Next we can use the “16 personalities” test to determine about what percentage of the population would make a good match. Taking the recommendations of 16personalities.com for my personality type, about 21% of the population would make a good match romantically. As you can already see the probability is now at around 6.3%.

There are certainly more traits that could refine the figure, but I believe that the 5% estimate made earlier is actually pretty accurate for me and probably most people which is pretty cool.

Shortcomings

The calculation is definitely not perfect and makes many assumptions about the nature of attractiveness and what people truly look for in a relationship. In particular the calculation is based primarily on “compatibility” which may mean different things to different people. Furthermore, what actually determines compatibility is subject to speculation. This analysis is mostly intuitive and at best a rough estimate but I feel as though its findings are corroborated by my real world experience and the frustration of people looking for relationships everywhere. Perhaps there really are less fish in the sea than your friends tell you there are.

If you see any problem with my calculations or would like to contribute your own input, please do. I'm not absolutely certain about any of these calculations and would really be interested in refining them as much as possible. Some of the calculations make assumptions about the statistical independence of the factors which would skew the result a little towards a lower value.


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What Girls Said 6

  • Haha I concur... There aren't plenty of suitable fish in the sea...

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  • 3mo

    not plenty, but some fish

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  • Nah, you're just bad at math and too picky

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    • And what are your mathematics credentials again?

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    • I'm not trying to insult you. I'm trying to tell you to go away.

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    • So let me get this straight. For you reality = "negativity" ? I haven't stated anything negative in this calculation, there are just facts and statistics. I don't know how how anyone can be offended by facts.

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    • You should lighten up champ.

    • @MissMc3 okay will do lol

  • I do not see a problem with your calculations but I caution that you need to keep in mind that most are only looking for a fish within a 20 mile to 30 mile radius of themselves, within their own age, social status and education so your general calculations aren't that helpful to a specific individual.

    Depending on a person's social sphere, geographical location, their age and how often they come in contact with other single's or not, is the most important calculation about whether there are other fish in the sea or not.

    Example: Someone in college has better odds of finding another fish than someone who is out of school, works at a job with no viable candidates for a relationship, has no kids and has no church or outside special interests.

    So college, there could be schools of single fish around but after college, there could be no fish around.

    If numbers are to be helpful, then I think focusing on increasing the number of fish around you is better than counting the fishing around you. Just a thought...

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    • I'm a little confused here... Your first paragraph describes my calculation exactly. There is basically no difference between what you describe in your first paragraph and the final result of my calculation, which is the number of compatible people within a 20-30 mile radius...

      And you seem to be making a point about exposure which is beyond the scope of this calculation. I'm talking about the number of fish, whereas you're talking about net size, which are fundamentally independent.

      Anyway, the point of this calculation is to disprove the myth that there are plenty of fish in the sea. People seem to think that there are millions upon millions of compatible people out there, when in reality the number can be shockingly small. Your point is basically to meet more people to improve your odds of meeting those people, which to me is just common sense. If you meet more people, you will meet more compatible people. This take was not meant to explore this idea.

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    • Basically, you are suggesting that my calculated figure is pathological, which I guess is true (though it doesn't make it invalid).

      The figure that you argue would be more useful is the probability of actually coming into contact with these people. This is much more difficult to calculate. If you were to be VERY simplistic about it, you could take 50 / 1M = 0.005%. However, that's the chance that any random stranger on the street is compatible with you.

      In reality people typically have friends and do activities in their lives that will naturally filter the people they come into contact with. This is why it's VERY unlikely that a friend of a friend will have a 0.005% chance of being compatible with you. It's more like 50%. So I think the probability of meeting compatible people varies considerably from person to person, but is generally pretty high.

      I understand what you're saying though, I guess this take isn't really of much practical use, but rather just mathematical curiosity.

    • I had boyfriend read your posts and my posts and he basically told me to not argue with you and that your math is right. And since boyfriend is a super genius in math, I will have to take his word for it. Especially since I have no idea what either of you were talking about. lol! :)

      I am glad to have met you and have interacted with you. I hope to do more of both in the future, ice_cat. :)

      Have a nice night.

  • I totally agree. With u

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What Guys Said 8

  • 3mo

    So does this assume that you are of a minority culture in a city?

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  • 3mo

    It's a simple analysis, but it's true that numerically it's surprising so many people find even a semblance of what we call love. And yeah, it gets hard the more "unique" you get. Being gay, or trans*, or disabled, all of those things are going to probably dampen your love life if you're not proactive about it. Of course, all of this makes me wish that I was less shallow and could just be into people based off their personalities. I'm a real good judge of character, but I have absolutely no game at all. This is my dilemma.

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  • 3mo

    This is true :/.

    But you did the calculations a little in the wrong order. First comes the total population, then cut down ~half of them by male/female ratio and only after then comes age, sex-orientation, proximity etc...

    As for me, the biggest criteria are - i think - impossible standards: No marriage and no kids and that's a firm decision from me. I think that will cut down 90% of the entire female population. After that comes some other conditions but I just named the biggest conditions. That is rendering me single by fate.

    Yes, there aren't many fish in the sea!

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  • You're right. I'm not saying all women are evil, but it's extremely difficult to impress them in this modern era, unless you have a six-digit income, look like Spartacus, or have white or Latino heritage.

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    • 3mo

      And drive a SUV too. And own a house with pool and garden.

    • 3mo

      @Unit1 Exactly. And right now, my financial situation isn't really the best, since I'm currently making $26,000 a year, so that's why I'm getting my master's degree in cyber security.

    • 3mo

      And I make $0 a year._. I'm studying something on a college level but I cannot get a job for a half year now! It's frustrating.

      But in all seriousness if you cannot get a woman because you don't:
      - make 6-digit income
      - look like spartacus
      - have white or latino heritage
      - drive a SUV
      - own a property
      then you should consider yourself very lucky. You don't want that kind of woman and neither do I.

      ps. It's not the personality or confidence, that makes women going after us (as they say: confidence and personality - but we are onto them :P). You and I both know what things do ;)

  • great, so i must have 3-4 girls in the whole world compatible with me based on those stats

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    • Can I ask which stats you actually changed to arrive at that figure?

    • i am ugly and only an inch taller than you and all woman want a guy who is 4-5 points above them in looks

    • I'm not sure if 4-5 points above them is really accurate or scientific. Since I don't know what you look like, I can't really comment, but I would say that girls usually want someone at about their "level" when it comes to dating and I generally see more attractive girls with less attractive guys rather than the converse.

  • HOLY CRAP. ACCORDING TO YOUR STATISTICS I HAVE ALMOST ZERO FISH IN MY SEA. :'(

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    • I now feel severely discouraged.

    • Well, you could find this figure discouraging but I think there's something else to take from this. I think that people in general stress compatibility/commonality a little too much and as a result have standards that are impossible to really match. I would date someone who didn't necessarily match all the criteria in this calculation, however, many people don't think so practically. It's a little unfortunate, but this calculation just shows the reality of the situation that trying to find a perfectly compatible person is basically impossible.

      By the way, what statistic limits your dating pool so much?

    • Obviously I agree with you on the criteria thing; I can't stick to such high standards (pun not intended), but I'm your height and would prefer not to date someone shorter than me – which directly contradicts the women wanting to date people taller than them. I just can't imagine having to look down at a partner, though. The second part is because I'm in a minority of feminine boys looking for masculine women, so there's that too. Clearly I'm not going to stick by all this but you'll probably see where I'm coming from at the least.

  • Whilst you make a valid point, statistically there are many flaws - you have far too many generalised assumptions, some of which you acknoweldge. One that particularly caught my eye was the number of people who are single. I haven't found anything that specifically contradicts your figure of 25% of all americans, but I found a UK news piece which indicated that below 40% of all people are single (BBC 'Small Data - are 51% of people really single?' [sorry can't post links so you can google it] - the figure is originally 51%, but cohabiting people are also included, so there is no definitve answer), however, a more pertinet statistic is age-related, if you are 22, there are going to be a lot more single people around your age than if you were say 52, where youve had an extra 30 years to find someone. This article (Refinery29 - 'Heres how many people your age are single') indicates that in 2014 64% of American millenials were single - thats over 2 1/2 times your figure. It also shows an interesting trend in the rise of singletons over the last 10 years.
    On a slightly different note, you have talked about a city, whilst many people do look locally for a partner, the phrase refers to looking for fish in the sea, not a pond! The sea is massive, and with the advent of the internet, its actually a lot easier to look in the rest of the 'sea' and spark up a relationship online. I met my wife online and she lived 300 miles away, I know many other people who have met partners online both relatively close and long distance (including different countries). So, there are plenty of fish, but you might need to spread your net a bit wider!
    PS. Generally I like your approach, although think more research is needed on each point, although some of the stats might just not exist.
    Remember, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics

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    • Well, obviously the statistics aren't perfect, but this misses the point a little bit. Even if your figures for being single are more accurate, it won't actually change the final result significantly. The calculation is mainly a ballpark calculation so even if the final result is off by a factor of 10, it still isn't a very big number.

      As for online dating, it is MISERABLE for people my age and take it from someone with a lot of experience with it. There are already too many people to filter through as it is, and most of the time nothing ever really happens through it.

      Anyway, to really understand what I meant by this take, you just have to look at the quote at the beginning. Since some people see dating as a "numbers game" this is what happens if you use actual statistics. In my opinion people spend too much time looking for something that is impossible to find and the statistics prove that, even if some of the figures are off.

  • This is a great take. Funny and yeah I see your point. But if this is true, why do nice women not want to bang nice guys?

    Given there are so many people. why not bang guys who care about you and are attractive rather than have quick sex with douches and then use the ever shortening number of nice men for validation and then complain later?

    Can u check out my question? Wrote it as I was inspired my your other take. www.girlsaskguys.com/.../q2060297-can-you-explain-why-women-appear-less-innocent-around-less-good-guys

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