In response to difficulties students have had meeting people during the pandemic, a group of undergraduates brought the Marriage Pact, an algorithm-based matching service, to Penn.
A core team of six Penn students launched the Marriage Pact, which was founded at Stanford in 2017, at Penn for the first time this year. Despite challenges, such as more heterosexual women than men signing up, 2,759 Penn undergraduates participated and were matched with one other person with whom they are compatible romantically or as friends. Participants completed a survey of over 50 questions addressing demographics, partner preferences, and Penn-specific questions.
Since its founding by two Stanford undergraduates, the Marriage Pact has spread to other schools such as Barnard College, Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of Virginia, and Yale University.
The group of Penn students began working to bring the Marriage Pact to Penn in February after Wharton sophomore Derek Nhieu messaged the Marriage Pact Instagram account, requesting to bring the program to Penn. Nhieu said that he thought that Marriage Pact was a cool concept, and he wanted to bring it to Penn to address the issues with loneliness he has seen among Penn students.
In mid-February, the core team at Penn worked with team members of the Marriage Pact organization to launch the program. College first year Charlie Schumer, who helped bring the Marriage Pact to Penn, said the team worked to develop Penn-specific marketing techniques and chose 10 questions or statements for the survey that would be “most interesting” for Penn students. These questions included "Are you smarter than most people at Penn?" and "My kids should attend private school.”
Participants were asked to respond to most questions and statements by using a numeric scale of one to seven. At the end of the questionnaire, students had to select which questions or statements were the most important to them.
Some of the statements include “Gender roles exist for a good reason,” “I would be disappointed if my partner gained weight,” and “Would you rather be left at the altar or leave someone at the altar?”
Wharton junior Lance Lunceford, another team member, said Penn Marriage Pact differs from other dating and matching services because the survey includes meaningful questions rather than ones about surface-level interests and hobbies.
“This focus will foster a sense of genuine connection to Penn,” Lunceford said.
Penn Marriage Pact also promised users a “perfect match.” Based on the Nobel Prize-winning deferred acceptance algorithm, the system tries to find the most compatible person in the entire pool of students. Other matching services, like Datamatch or Tinder, match users to multiple people, and users must choose among their matches. Penn Marriage Pact, however, only offers one-to-one matching.
This presented a challenge for the Penn team because, as of March 7, two days before matches were to be released, there were 500 heterosexual females that were waitlisted with no match. Nhieu, the 2023 Class Board president, sent an email to the Class of 2023 asking 500 men to sign up for the Marriage Pact to fix the deficit. When matches were released, the gap had shrunk to 450.
Although the responses to Penn Marriage Pact were largely positive, with more than one-quarter of the student body signing up, several users voiced concerns over data privacy and storage.
“I definitely have some concerns about data privacy. Especially because a lot of the information we provided was demographic information about things that people might not be comfortable getting out there,” College sophomore Sophie Qi said.
Qi said that she ultimately decided to participate despite knowing that there were some risks involved. College first year Emiliano Castillo, another participant, said he had no concerns about data privacy.
“I feel like Marriage Pact is relatively secure, especially since this is something that's been going on at other universities for a little bit,” he said.
Castillo said that he hopes Marriage Pact will allow him to meet new people, which has been challenging due to COVID-19.
“It's obviously been difficult to meet people because of the pandemic,” Castillo said. “I'm really curious to see if the algorithm can do what Penn hasn't been able to do.”
In total, Marriage Pact has made 26,562 matches across universities and even resulted in one marriage.
“What are the downsides? Maybe you get an awkward match. Maybe nothing happens. But what are the possibilities?" Nhieu said. "You could theoretically get married."