Study: Nearly 40% Of American Couples Now Meet Online

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Look at the success of MTV’s Catfish, OkCupid’s omnipresent DTF advertising campaign, and the launch of Tinder-branded candles, and it’s clear online dating has become an indelible part of modern life. Dating platforms have changed the way we meet, the way we speak, the way we entertain ourselves and the way we perceive ourselves.

Recent research from sociologists Michael Rosenfeld and Sonia Hausen of Stanford University and Reuben Thomas of the University of New Mexico reveals the immense influence online dating now wields. According to the study, online dating has become the most popular way for heterosexual couples in the United States to meet. Data from 2009 showed that the percentage of heterosexual couples who met online rose from 0 percent in 1995 to about 22 percent in 2009. Today, that number is closer to 39 percent.

At the same time, being introduced to romantic partners through one’s social network has sharply declined. Meeting online eclipsed meeting through friends and family for the first time around 2013. “The traditional system of dating, mediated by friends and family, was supposed to provide guarantees that any potential partner had been personally vetted and vouched for by trusted alters, the friends and family members,” wrote the study’s authors.

So why are today’s singles choosing to trust corporations as matchmakers over their personal connections? There are several possible reasons.

One theory is that it has to do with choice. A dating platform can provide access to a significantly larger pool of potential suitors than a friend can. This is particularly beneficial for people who live in isolated areas or who are searching for something that is hard to find. Niche dating services, for example, exist specifically to help those with narrower fields of potential mates find a match.

Another theory suggests it’s about how well we know each other (or not). A friend or family member can try to broker a romantic relationship, but they will only succeed if they know both parties on a deeply intimate level. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing intensely personal information with those they know, but they may not feel the same qualms about sharing it with the algorithm of a dating app.

Other theories hypothesize that availability of information lies at the root of online dating’s success. Technology makes it easier to obtain up-to-date information about a larger number of people than an individual ever could. And with data analysis, experiments and machine learning, dating platforms are able to continuously improve their matching algorithms for greater accuracy.

Whether these findings represent a permanent societal shift will have to be assessed by future generations. In the meantime, researchers will continue to evaluate the impact of online dating and share their fascinating findings about beauty, sex, love, race, breakups and more.