Stanford Marriage Pact takes second stab at mastering love algorithm

Dec. 5, 2018, 5:35 a.m.

In its second year, the Stanford Marriage Pact — an algorithm that pairs students based on their criteria for an ideal spouse — saw a revamped questionnaire and algorithm as well as 500 more responses from last year.

The 500-response increase followed nine months of research by the pact’s creators, Liam McGregor ’20 and Sophia Sterling-Angus ’19, into the attributes that bring people together and foster lasting relationships.

“[We studied] everything from why arranged marriages in India work to why people have an affinity for each other on their first date,” McGregor said.

Combining their research with an analysis of the results of the first Pact, the pair amended questions to better differentiate between individual preferences. While they kept certain questions, such as the divisive “I prefer politically incorrect humor,” they removed questions that resulted in mostly homogenous responses.

Sterling-Angus was particularly excited about answers to new questions such as “Are you smarter than most people at Stanford?” and “I would drive my friend to the airport even if I had a final the next day.”

“It’s a very concrete experience that everybody can sort of think of,” McGregor said, referring to the airport question. “But I think it gets at a number of different things about you,” McGregor explained in response to the airport question.

Another issue from last year that Sterling-Angus and McGregor had hoped to address was the lack of heterosexual males in the matching pool. At first,  434 heterosexual females were set to be left unmatched — but after publicly requesting that more heterosexual males fill out the questionnaire, they were able to narrow the waitlisted pool down to just over 100 women.

“It’s absolutely in everyone’s interest to have a bigger pool because people have some funky preferences,” Sterling-Angus said.

McGregor and Sterling-Angus said that what the Pact reveals about match-seekers has proven to be just as exciting as the matches themselves; they noted that 62 percent of participants like to be thought of as well dressed and that last year’s results showed that half of Stanford was either atheist or agnostic.

“When you have three-fifths of campus, it’s pretty predictive,” McGregor said.

Due to the high volume of personal data collected by the Pact, McGregor decided to write a data policy for the latest version, which addressed how information is collected and used. The policy emphasizes that beyond contact information with a match, personal data is not shared or sold.

Sterling-Angus said that they refrain from signing their names on emails sent by the Pact and use “a very branded voice” in order to further dissociate themselves from the questionnaire.

Sterling-Angus and McGregor also emphasized that the Pact is not meant to lead to an immediate connection, nor are matches based on physical attraction — Sterling-Angus jokingly called the Pact “marital insurance.”

“The premise is here’s someone that’s your best choice to come back to in 10 years when you’ve struck out or when you were busy doing other things, which is so real to people at Stanford, right?” McGregor said. “To say, wow, for 10 years I’m going to focus on my career and I might look up one day and realize nobody’s left.”

While McGregor and Sterling-Angus have yet to hear of anyone fulfilling the “marriage” portion of the pact, both remain hopeful that their algorithm will master the equation for love.

“It’s like a start-up. You have to start and make no money for 10 years — we might get no wedding invitations for 10 years — and then we’re gonna get lots,” McGregor said. “If they need my mailing address for the invitation, I’m happy to provide it.”


Contact Regina Kong at reginak ‘at’ and Emma Smith at esmith11 ‘at’


This article has been corrected to reflect a the accurate increase in responses that this year’s marriage pact receive in comparison to last year’s. It has also been corrected to show that ultimately, just over 100 women were waitlisted, not 434. The Daily regrets these errors.

Emma Smith '22 is a desk editor for the Academics beat of news. She is originally from Oak Park, IL and is studying International Relations with a focus on the intersection between international security and human rights. Contact her at esmith11 'at'

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