Finding love in all the wrong places

Multicultural group of friends using cellphones - Students sitting in a row and typing on the smartphones

There has been a large shift in how we find partners:

As early as 2010 the internet had overtaken churches, neighbourhoods, classrooms and offices as a setting in which Americans might meet a partner of the opposite sex. Bars and restaurants have fallen since (see chart). For those seeking same-sex partners the swing is even more striking. The internet is the primary meeting space for same-sex pairings, whether casual or more than casual: 70% of same-sex relationships start online. “This is a very big shift in how people find their partners,” observes Reuben Thomas, a sociologist at the University of New Mexico. “It’s unprecedented.”

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These trends are even more pronounced now. They are not unexpected either – after all, we do more of everything else now online: shopping, socialising, getting news, being entertained.

In a 2013 study researchers from Harvard University and the University of Chicago showed that marriages that started online were less likely to end in break-up and were associated with higher levels of satisfaction than marriages of the same vintage between similar couples who had met offline: the difference was not huge, but it was statistically significant. Couples who met online also reported being slightly more satisfied with their marriage than those who met offline, by an average of one fifth of a point more on a seven-point scale. Scaled up to the third or more of marriages in America that start online, that would mean that close to a million people have found happier marriages than they would have otherwise thanks to the internet—as have millions more around the world.

This makes sense. Offline, people meet others who are like them in various ways—who know the same people and work in the same places. Online they can meet people not like them in those ways, but like them in other ways that may matter more. You can meet people who aren’t like you and select those who are, says Jess Carbino, the in-house sociologist at Bumble.

For the rest of us, there are always cat videos. Thank you internet.

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