Internet now most popular place to meet a spouse, but divorce is high: study

Internet meeting
PHOTO: Unsplash/Samantha Gades

Originally published in The Christian Post

The most popular place for single adults over 30 to meet a future spouse is no longer recommendations from family, friends and neighbours, but online, a new study conducted in the United Kingdom shows.

Since 2017, according to Relative Strangers: The Importance of Social Capital for Marriage, a study of some 2027 “ever married” adults conducted by the Marriage Foundation, most weddings have been among couples who met online, edging out those who meet through family, friends or neighbours for the first time since at least the 2010s.

The study shows how rapidly the internet replaced not just friends, family and neighbours as the social setting to meet a spouse, but work, bars, schools and other places too.

The study shows that even though online dating started taking off between the 1990s and the 2000s, the internet remained the least popular place for people to meet a spouse, registering only 1% in the 1990s and 7% in the 2000s.

Among couples who got married in the 2000s, some 9% said they met at school or university, two percentage points higher than those who said they met online. By the 2010s, however, some 21% of couples said they met their spouse online, the same percentage as those who met their spouses at work, a bar or elsewhere. The percentage who said they met their spouse at school shrank to just 7%. Only couples who met through friends, family and neighbours had a better ranking at 30%.

By 2017, while spouses who met online and those who met through family, friends and neighbours were statistically tied for the most popular place for people to meet a spouse, data from the study show that “the proportion of couples who had met online reached 28% of weddings and overtook the proportion who had met through family and friends,” the Marriage Foundation said.

The only other place that showed an increase in 2017 among places where people meet their spouse was at the workplace. The number of couples who met their spouses at work increased to 24%. Those who met at bars and elsewhere fell to 16%, while the number of couples who meet their spouses at school or university fell to 4%.

While the internet is now shown as the most popular place to meet a spouse in the UK, the study also showed that people who meet their spouses online have a greater risk of divorcing in the first three years.

“Among those who married since the year 2000, couples who met online had significantly higher divorce rates, but only during their first three years of marriage,” researchers noted.

This risk appears to diminish over time as people get to know each other better.

“Gathering reliable information about the longterm character of the person you are dating or marrying is quite obviously more difficult for couples who meet online without input from mutual friends or family or other community,” researchers explained. “For online couples, wider social bonds between families and friends have to form from scratch rather than being well-established over years or even decades. It is therefore not entirely unsurprising that the input of family, friends or co-workers reduces the risk of making a hasty mistake.”

In his study, Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2019, Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld and his research team found that online dating had become the most common way for heterosexual Americans to find romantic partners. 

Among the reasons, Rosenfeld and his team suggest online dating has exploded is the increase in the choice of the dating pool compared to traditional networks like friends and family.

“The sets of people connected to Tinder, Match, and eHarmony are larger than the sets of people connected to one’s mother or friend. Larger choice sets are valuable to everyone engaged in [the] search,” the researchers said.

Online dating also allows individuals to better control knowledge about their dating preferences and activities.

“Individuals might not want to share their dating preferences and activities with their mother or with their friends. Active brokerage of romantic partnerships by a family member or friend would depend on the broker knowing what both individuals desire in a partner,” Rosenfeld and his team noted. “Taking advantage of Facebook to find friends of friends for romantic matches (i.e. passive brokerage by friends) might expose dating habits and choices to too broad an audience. Dating perfect strangers encountered online is potentially more discreet than dating a friend’s friend.”

Researchers further suggest that online dating can also offer a measure of security by helping to screen matches much better than friend networks with the use of machine learning technology.

“The online dating sites have the potential to improve their matching algorithms through data analysis, experiments, and machine learning over time. In any business where matching is a core function, the quality of the matching algorithms are vital for the success of the business,” the researchers noted.

“Netflix has improved its various algorithms for matching people to movies over time. Compared to the one-way matching problem of matching people to movies, the problem of matching people to each other is a more difficult two-way matching problem. While there are reasons to be skeptical of the claims that the online dating sites make about the scientific nature of their various matching algorithms, the online dating sites have at least the potential for technological advancement, whereas the face-to-face network of friends is a more static technology.”

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