Now more than ever, today’s romantics are meeting online. Online dating blew up as soon as the internet hit the mainstream—the first online dating site, Match.com, went live as early as 1995. Now, more 40 million Americans are regularly on dating apps. But how is this figure shaping trends in dating, marriage, and divorce, if at all?
Do online dating apps encourage serial dating? Do they make it easier to cheat in a relationship? And, perhaps the biggest itch in people’s curiosity: How does online dating affect marriages and, therefore, divorce?
The research is in, and it says nothing you would expect—mostly.
A paper titled, “The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating” looks into the links between falling divorce rates alongside the rise of online dating.
That’s right, divorce rates are actually falling. They have been since the 1990s, which, as you would recall, was the time that saw the advent of online dating. According to a 2016 report by Time, separations in the United States went from 17.6 divorces for every 1,000 married women in 2014, to 16.9 in 2015. It’s a small drop, but this statistical trend is showing no sign of stopping as, just last year, the divorce rate dropped further to nearly its lowest point in 40 years.
At this point, it’s easy to disregard the link between online dating and falling divorce rates as a baseless correlation. But the paper’s findings actually support the findings of other studies, which show that married couples who met online are slightly more satisfied with their marriages than those that first met offline.
There could be a number of reasons for this, one being that dating apps are connecting us with people we otherwise likely would have never encountered, maybe even considered.
The rise of online dating and social media has effectively opened up a new world of dating possibilities, overcoming barriers such as time and distance in ways never before. Online dating has widened the selection of potential mates unlike ever before. Today, relationships are no longer limited to friends, friends of friends, and so on. “The one” may have never been among our circles, and dating apps are bridging that gap.
Dating apps even have hypothetical benefits. The researchers behind the study have been making simulations of society, adding and removing certain factors and seeing what would happen to relationships as a result. The results? Online dating allowed for more interracial connections, increasing the chances of “complete racial integration,” and ultimately resulting in a more harmonious society.
Although these findings are far from conclusive, they do line up nicely with existing hypotheses of online dating being the main driver of change in the dynamics of relationships.