Introducing The 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project Survey

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"For as long as romantic relationships have existed," says the new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "people have sought assistance in meeting potential partners using whatever options were at their disposal."

And for as long as scientific studies have existed, say I, researchers have been trying to explain love via facts, figures, and other data.

The latest in that long line of relationship research is the 2013 Online Dating & Relationships study conducted by Pew. "The rise of tech-enabled dating help has been one of the most striking developments of the digital era," continues the study, "and these alternative ways of meeting and mating have arisen at a time of fundamental change in the structure of marriage and divorce in America."

The number of Americans getting married is steadily declining and today it is at a record low of 51%, down from the 72% of adults who were married in 1960. Americans are also postponing marriage until later in life, and are often choosing other options - including cohabitation and single person households - instead. But fear not - the institution is not yet dead. Around 61% of men and women who have never married say that tying the knot is in their plans someday.

While there are few left who disagree that online dating is a good way to meet potential partners, some have claimed it actually produces more successful relationships than traditional offline dating. Research is so far inconclusive on that matter, but what it has proven is that online dating and offline dating offer noticeably different experiences.

The perks of online dating include:

  • The ability to draw from a deep pool of potential partners that goes well outside of one's existing social networks
  • The ability to communicate online or via email prior to arranging a face-to-face meeting
  • Matching algorithms that help users to filter potential partners based on pre-existing criteria
  • More opportunities for members of niche communities who have limited options for meeting people in real life

On the other hand, online dating nay-sayers believe that the rise of online dating is contributing to the downfall of committed relationships. Young adults are not motivated to choose marriage, they argue, because online dating provides an endless stream of romantic and sexual options that lowers their interest in long-term relationships.

Much has changed, not just our approaches to marriage and commitment, since Pew last conducted a survey like this. 2005 saw the Pew Research Center's last foray into the Internet's impact on dating and relationships. In the intervening years, mobile phone usage has exploded (the iPhone hadn't even been born yet!) and social networking sites have taken over the Web. The ways in which people seek out, research, meet, and interact with potential partners will never be the same.