Online dating is becoming more prevalent in America. One in every ten American adults has used an online dating site or mobile dating application, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Of those who are “single and looking”, that number rises to 38%. Those most likely to try online dating are college-educated and in their mid-twenties through mid-forties. And there are now thousands of dating sites ranging from general to highly specific sub-groups (zombies, Jewish Moms, vampires, Russian brides, and one for dwarves and the people who love them).
Online dating is becoming more accepted, but people still have reservations. Some 42% Of Americans now know someone who has used an online dating site and a third of Americans now know someone who met their partner this way. However, one-third of internet users (33%) agree with the statement that “online dating keeps people from settling down because they always have options for people to date”. And 21% of Americans think that people who use online dating sites are desperate.
Science has some interesting insights in how online dating is affecting the way we choose partners and whether we stay with them when the going gets rough.
Online dating promotes an evaluative mindset, where potential partners are rapidly evaluated as a potential romantic partner, according to a fascinating 2012 study (bonus: the entire study is available for free reading!). The evaluative mindset commoditizes people, applying a marketplace mentality where benefits and costs are assessed on an ongoing basis. This coupled with online dating sites advertising a “soul mate” concept (73% of Americans believe in soul mates) over “romantic growth”, means that people are likely to end the partnership because it “wasn’t meant to be” rather than working it out.
Another study found that mating competition increases religious beliefs. That is, if you see that your competition is bunch of attractive Christians and you’re a Christian, you’ll ramp up your own Christianity in order to compete. Since online dating allows users to be ridiculously specific while also having to compete against more people, one can expect purported religiosity to also rise.
I would guess that we’ll see a continued rise in social stratification with the advent of online dating and online communities in general that bring together like-minded people. Why bother going outside your comfort zone if you can easily find like-minded people?
But….people need dates and online dating is providing a much needed platform for meeting potential mates. Check out Amy Webb’s TED Talk on how she hacked online dating to meet the perfect man.