:::: MENU ::::

Internet, Social Media

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


Woman on dating site (iStock)Woman on dating site (iStock)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

    Writer: | Last updated: June 13, 2013

    Citation: John T. Cacioppoa; Stephanie Cacioppoa; Gian C. Gonzagab; Elizabeth L. Ogburnc; Tyler J. VanderWeelec. "Marital Satisfaction and Break-ups Differ across On-line and Off-line Meeting Venues," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2013. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1222447110.

    We welcome feedback. Please contact us here.

    Analysis assignments

    Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Love, Lies and What They Learned."

    1. What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover issues of online culture?

    Read the full study titled  “Marital Satisfaction and Break-ups Differ across On-line and Off-line Meeting Venues.”

    1. What are the study's key technical terms? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?