The good news: They may not be so bad after all.
The rise of internet dating services could be behind stronger marriages, an increase in interracial partnerships, and more connections between people from way outside our social circles, according to a new study by economics professors Josue Ortega at the University of Essex and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna in Austria. Today, more than one-third of marriages begin online.
Online dating is the second most popular way to meet partners for heterosexual couples and, by far, the most popular form of dating for homosexual partners. Sites like OKCupid, Match.com and Tinder, all owned by InterActiveCorp IAC, +0.76% and other sites from eHarmony to location-based app Grindr, are vastly changing the way our society functions. Dating apps have exploded in popularity since the launch of Apple’s AAPL, +1.03% first iPhone in 2007.
In the past, the study said, we largely relied on real-life social networks to meet our mates — friends of friends, colleagues, and neighbors — meaning we largely dated people like ourselves. Now, as we open our dating pool to strangers, the pool of potential mates has become more diverse, and the online dating world is “benefitting exponentially,” said dating coach Meredith Golden.
“We don’t always fall in love with our clone so a wider dating net, be it outside of race and ethnicity or tapping into a large LGBTQ pool creates happy unions,” she said.
When connections were made between just a few people of different races, “complete racial integration” would be almost inevitable, meaning that the majority of couples would be interracial. A rise of interracial couples can alleviate prejudice and racism in society, studies show, and usher in a multiracial future.
What’s more, online dating leads to could lead to happier couples, too. “Our model predicts that, on average, marriages created when online dating becomes available last longer than those created in societies without this technology,” they wrote.
Dating-site questionnaires and match-making algorithms could play a role in finding a more suitable partner, but people who sign up for dating sites are also likely to be ready to get married, Jeffrey A. Hall, associate professor of communications at the University of Kansas, previously told MarketWatch. What’s more, the seemingly endless choice also leads to people not following through on swipes or messages, and staying on treating these apps like a never-ending carousel of romantic and sexual promises.
Roughly 30 million unique users, or about 10% of the U.S. population, visit dating sites every month, according to market researcher Nielsen. And many of them pay a hefty sum for that chance to meet their perfect match. At the two biggest subscription-based sites in the U.S., Match.com ($42 a month) and eHarmony ($60 a month), users can save by signing on for, say, a six-month bundle ($24 per month and $40 per month, respectively).
And some sites, like PlentyofFish.com and OkCupid, offer basic membership for free. But most subscription sites automatically renew until the customer cancels, and those fees can add up. The dating industry is worth around $3 billion, with revenue split between advertising and subscription services, up revenue up around 5% per year, according to a report by research firm IBISWorld. Of that, around half is from online dating.
However, Chelsea Reynolds an assistant professor of communications at California State University, Fullerton who researches dating behavior, said some of the effects of online dating are less desirable. Being able to search by specific demographics and traits makes it easier to fall into what she calls the “McDonaldization” of dating, narrowing down potential partners and eliminating people different from us.
“Young people today are more prone to serial dating and tend to get married later, if they marry at all,” she said. “Online dating might introduce an insatiable appetite for variety and novelty — a constant desire for the next best partner, the next quick sexual tryst.”
(Quentin Fottrell contributed to this story.)