Expert Commentary

Global shift in the social relationships of networked individuals: Meeting and dating online comes of age

2011 study by University of Oxford on global online dating practices, focusing on how the couples met, how they communicate, and the role of the Internet in their daily lives.


While online social contact can be traced back to the 1980s, online dating began to gain more prominence — and participants — around 1997, according to a 2011 study by the Oxford Internet Institute. The incorporation of Web 2.0 interactive technologies and database support helped online dating to steadily expand: Before 1997, only 6% of singles searched for potential companions online; after 1997, 30% of singles did.

The 2011 study, “A Global Shift in the Social Relationships of Networked Individuals: Meeting and Dating Online Comes of Age,” analyzes online survey data from cohabitating couples who use the Internet living across Europe, Asia and South America. The survey focused on how the couples met, how they communicate with each other, and the role of the Internet in their daily lives.

Key study findings include:

  • Overall, online dating is more prevalent among people 40 and over (36% found their current partner online) than it is among people below 40 (23% percent started a relationship through the Internet).
  • Individuals seek out relationships through a combination of offline and online networks, which suggests that online tools are a complement, rather than a substitute, to traditional dating methods and practices. Despite the increased use of online dating sites, the most popular strategies for pursuing a partner since the onset of online dating in 1997 continue to be clubs and bars (69%), referrals from friends (67%), public spaces (49%), family (32%) and extracurricular activities (27%).
  • Online dating behaviors vary according to gender preferences: 28% of straight women, 36% of lesbians, 30% of straight men and 39% percent of gay men in the survey searched for partners online.
  • Germany (29.0%), Sweden (28.3%) and Denmark (26.1%) have the highest percentages of relationships that started online; Greece (15.5%), Ireland (15.7%) and Italy (16.1%) have the lowest. 83% of Brazilians claimed to have met someone offline that they initially befriended online; only 31.85% of Japanese have made the same relational transition.
  • “There are discernible differences cross-nationally, and across regions, in terms of dating practices, online behaviors, and Internet use. Respondents in Japan, which is known for high technology adoption, are more reluctant to embrace online dating, whereas in Brazil, which is often seen as a site of gregarious public spaces, people tend to be more comfortable with meeting people online.”

The authors conclude that “it is clear that meeting others online either for friendship or romantic purposes is now a common, and in some contexts dominant, practice…. This means it is worth changing the topic from ‘why or how’ are people meeting online to how sites are structured and designed to encourage or discourage certain kinds of meeting and matching.”

Tags: technology, Facebook, Europe, Asia, telecommunications

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