To pay or not to pay: That is the question. For every dating site or app that charges close to $40 per month, such as Match, eHarmony, or JDate, there are plenty of other popular ones like OkCupid or Tinder that are free. If your goal is to get a date—or find a mate—are you better off with one type over the other?

Both kinds are popular, so you can’t go just by that. In the 2016 Consumer Reports Online Dating Survey, more than 9,600 people who had used an online dating service in the last two years were asked which one they had joined. Forty-eight percent said Match, a paid site, but PlentyOfFish (free) and eHarmony (paid) tied for second most popular, with 23 percent apiece.

But in terms of overall satisfaction, our survey found that free dating sites actually score a touch better than paid ones, probably because they're a better value. Although our survey found that no dating site or app sweeps online daters off their feet in the satisfaction department, OkCupid is rated highest overall by respondents, and Grindr, a free app for gay men, is also near the top. 

Do You Get What You Pay For?

Some experts argue that paid sites attract more serious users. “I typically recommend Match because I’ve found it gives you better quality,” says Jodi Manfredi, who writes online dating profiles professionally.

“I’ve always assumed that putting anything behind a pay wall makes it more attractive and weeds out the casual users and trolls,” agrees Joseph Lynn, a Chicago man who used eHarmony and Match as well as a few free sites. “The fact that eHarmony matched me with several women with whom I shared common interests led me to believe that I was seeing more quality matches.”

At the same time, you shouldn’t write off a site just because it’s free. Even Tinder, despite its reputation for attracting users seeking causal romance, may deserve a more open mind. 

“It's a myth that some sites are better for relationships while others are more for hookups,” says Manfredi. “There are people of different intentions on every platform; it’s more important what your intention is.”

Perhaps the key factor that determines whether you’ll like a site is not the price to join but the kind of people you find on it and how they behave and communicate.

“That’s the real issue—how happy are people with their interactions on the dating sites,” says Scott Kominers, a lecturer in economics at Harvard University. On a site like OkCupid anyone can send you a message, whereas on the free app Bumble or on Tinder or eHarmony, only people you are matched with can get in touch.  

A Better Way to Date?

Kominers thinks online daters could be well served by a service that isn’t quite free but doesn’t involve a subscription fee either. Inspired by Jiayuan.com, the largest online dating site in China, he thinks dating sites would have happier customers overall if they did away with their current pricing models and charged users per message sent.

“If sending messages had a price or you could send only a fixed number per day, people you contact online would know you had to give up something to do so, which would incentivize better behavior,” he says.

Perhaps beyond just charging for messages, sites could adjust the price according to how high quality someone's engagement seems to be. So a person who randomly sends out dozens of “hey” messages to would-be dates would have to pay a higher price to make contacts than someone who does it more selectively.

In the meantime, the bottom line is that while some users think quality does come at a price, there are benefits to free dating services as well. Online daters may be best off trying both types. Indeed, that’s what most do. Our survey suggests that 45 percent of online daters have tried multiple dating websites or apps.