Expert Commentary

Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-line and off-line meeting venues

2013 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that online relationships often produce more long-lasting marriages.

Woman on dating site (iStock)

Internet matchmaking is now a $1 billion industry in the United States, with one in three people reporting finding their current partner online. Despite the industry’s growth and the extravagant promises that sites of all sizes now make — that they offer “lasting and fulfilling relationships” and the opportunity to meet “the love of your life” — few comprehensive analyses have assessed the long-term outcomes of Internet dating.

The relative lack of peer-reviewed data persuaded researchers from the University of Chicago, Gestalt Research and Harvard University to measure the impact of online dating on marriage. For their research they surveyed more than 19,131 couples who married between 2005 and 2012. The resulting study, “Marital Satisfaction and Break-ups Differ across On-line and Off-line Meeting Venues,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study’s findings include:

  • More than one-third of those married between 2005 and 2012 met their significant other online.
  • The percentage of marital break-ups was slightly higher for individuals who met their spouses off-line (7.67%) than those who met online (5.96%).
  • Those who met their spouse online reported somewhat higher marital satisfaction (an average of 5.64 out of 7) than those who met their spouse off-line (5.48 out of 7).
  • Among partners who met offline, those who grew up together or met socially through a school, place of worship or at a social gathering had higher levels of marital satisfaction than those who met through work, family, at a bar or on a blind date.
  • The demographics of those who met online tend to differ from those who met off-line. Couples who met on the Internet were more educated and were more likely to be employed.

The authors suggest several possible reasons that online matchmaking may produce better outcomes. First, users of matchmaking sites are a self-selecting group, motivated to form long-term relationships. Second, it is possible that the initial meeting, by way of a computer, encourages greater self-disclosure. Finally, simply having more options may allow individuals to be more selective when choosing a partner. Whatever the reason, the researchers state that this general pattern is “encouraging, given the paradigm shift in terms of how Americans are meeting their spouse.” They suggest extending the research to other countries, as well as further study as to whether the observed differences in marital outcomes remain constant over longer periods of time.

Related research: A 2011 Oxford University 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.

Keywords: dating, technology

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