College Students Are Taking a New Kind of Marriage Pact

Thousands of students across the country are taking a survey to find their perfect match. Here's how it works.
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  • Two Stanford students created the Marriage Pact, a service to find your perfect match on campus, for a final in an economics class.
  • Five years later, 132,000 matches have been made at colleges across the country.
  • The survey asks questions that are used as matching metrics, from personal questions about drinking habits to feelings about social activism.
  • A senior at Michigan shares that even though there seems to be an overall low hit rate, she knows of a few successful matches brought together by the survey.

Maddy Kim ('23) first took the Marriage Pact survey as a first-year student at the University of Michigan in 2019. Four years later, she received her fourth and final match.

A "marriage pact" commonly refers to the promise two friends make when they are young to get married at a certain age if they are still single. It is also the witty title of a free matchmaking survey service taking over colleges across the country.

What started as an economics class project for two Stanford students in 2017 has made national waves, landing at 78 prominent universities — from Northwestern to Duke, Tulane to Bowdoin.

Since 2017, nearly 328,000 students have participated in the Marriage Pact across the country, rounding out to about 132,000 matches. Here are a few success stories.

Most recently, nearly 13,500 students from the University of Michigan took their surveys to find out who they are most compatible with on campus.

"It's super fun, and the interesting thing is that everyone knows about it somehow," said Kim.

How Did Marriage Pact Start?

In November 2017, Sophia Sterling-Angus and Liam McGregor, two Stanford students tasked with a final for their economics class, decided to create a dating questionnaire that they called the Marriage Pact.

According to The Stanford Daily, "Like many entrepreneurial fairy tales, the idea began with a whiteboard — inspired by an economics homework question referencing the Nobel Prize-winning stable marriage algorithm, coupled with observations of Stanford's dating scene."

Sterling-Angus and McGregor would have been happy to have 100 total respondents, they recalled in the student newspaper. But to their surprise, within five days of emailing the survey out, over half of the undergraduates at Stanford had taken it.

Nearly 4,000 students that year answered intimate questions that matched them with the most compatible match at Stanford. The Stanford Daily reported, "The algorithm's 2017 matches sparked thousands of awkward Facebook messages, hundreds of dates and even a handful of lasting relationships, according to feedback results from last year's experiment."

In the first 13 months after expanding to other college campuses, the Marriage Pact was already at 65 additional schools nationwide. At that time, 3-4% of matches went on to date for a year or longer, according to the Marriage Pact website.

Unlike Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, three popular dating apps used by college students that are "very surface level" according to Kim, people who take the Marriage Pact are looking to find a real match backed by science.

How Does Marriage Pact Work?

For the 78 Marriage Pact-registered schools, once the yearly survey is sent out to the school, students have exactly a week to fill it out. The 15-minute survey asks about 50 questions, starting with demographic questions, including gender identity, political affiliation, religious affiliation, and ethnic identity.

Students are then asked a series of questions about your match's identity, such as which gender(s) you wish to be matched with and if you wish to opt out of the race-blind default to select specific races or ethnicities they would not be comfortable matching with.

The Marriage Pact points out that this last question holds a particular weight: "Race is structurally ingrained in society, so we must ask about it," the website says.

"If a participant really wants to behave exclusively, they'll have to confront their discrimination with each additional box they check … The most important thing the Marriage Pact questionnaire can do is discover discrimination like this privately, so that students won't be exposed to it when they get their match."

Students then rank a series of statements on a 7-point Likert scale. This section of the survey is specially crafted for each individual school.

At Michigan, statements/questions range from: "I go to great lengths to minimize my harm to the planet" to "Exercising is an important part of my lifestyle," and "Abortion should always be legal" to "I always take the scenic route."

According to The Stanford Daily, the Marriage Pact team, composed of mostly full-time students, "has developed a way to model a successful long-term relationship, which is based on four meta-levels: personality, basic values, romantic tendencies and building a shared life."

After students select the statements/questions they deem most important, responses are run through an algorithm, and matches are made. Within the week, students receive emails with their match's initials, which is subject to change depending on if more people take the survey.

On the final day of the Marriage Pact, students receive an email with their match's name and email address.

According to Kim, the likelihood of a Marriage Pact match leading to a dating relationship at Michigan is slim. In her first year, Kim was looking for a male match. However, more women than men took the survey, so she did not receive a match. In the two years to follow, she was matched, but nothing really came of their communication.

This year after receiving her final match, she was sad to say, "It was a bit of a bust."

However, the same is not true for everyone. Naomi and Joey, two Michigan students who were in the same friend group, hit the jackpot and have been dating for two years after taking the Marriage Pact.



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"I think without the Marriage Pact, I don't think we actually would have ended up together. We still talk about it to this day. We're still the Michigan Marriage Pact couple," said Joey.