In Depth

Online dating: has it changed the fabric of society?

Intermarriage has seen a massive increase in the past decade, while marriages formed online are lasting longer

More people than ever are meeting the love of their life online, rather than waiting for friends to hook them up - but what does that mean for society as a whole? 

The rise of dating websites and apps such as Tinder has been so rapid that it is now the “second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet”, and the most popular platform for homosexual couples, says a report in MIT Technology Review.

Digital dating has many “knock-on effects” for how society functions, says Alphr - not least because it makes it far easier for people from different cultures and social backgrounds to meet.

In fact, a study by researchers from the universities of Essex and Vienna found there has been a significant increase in interracial partnerships since the trend took off - suggesting a link. 

How has the dating landscape changed?

Researchers have spent the past 50 years studying the way in which societies formulate real-world social networks and how this influences dating habits, reports MIT Technology Review. 

This research found that people tend to partner up with other people  “loosely connected” to their real-world social network, the website says. So while most people generally avoid dating their closest friends, the site says, they are “highly likely to date people linked with their group of friends”.

However, the rise of online dating is changing all that.

The study by the universities of Essex and Vienna reports that “meeting people outside our social network online can intuitively increase the number of interracial marriages in our societies”.

According to the researchers, the rate of interracial marriage “has consistently increased in the last 50 years”, but saw a particularly steep hike following the inception of the first major online dating service, Match.com, in 1995. There was another jump around 2004, as “online dating became more popular” with the launch of websites such as OkCupid. 

The most recent boom in interracial marriages came in 2014, when popular app Tinder was really taking off, the researchers said. Between 2010 and 2015, the rate of interracial marriages in the US rose from 15.1% to 17%. 

Breaking down social barriers

The researchers say that “understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is an important problem, for intermarriage is widely considered a measure of social distance in our societies”.

Marriage between spouses of a different race or ethnicity was formally declared legal in the US in 1967, says Alphr, and since then the sharpest increases in such unions have coincided with “important milestones in online dating history”.

Emphasising this link to online dating, the website says that “while you’d expect interracial marriages to become more likely as the US population becomes more diverse, it doesn’t match the rate at which the change is occurring”.

“The change in the population composition in the US cannot explain the huge increase in intermarriage that we observe,” the researchers conclude.

They also note that marriages formed online “last longer than those created in societies without this technology”.

Of course, it is still early days for digital dating, and for the unions formed as a result, but one thing is clear - its effects are far more profound than just changing the way we meet our partners.

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