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Surprising Science

Looking for Love on Facebook

The majority of people who met their current partner online did not find love through dating sites, but chat rooms (24%), social networking sites (14%), bulletin boards (8%) and a variety of different sites. 

According to new research released by the Oxford University Internet Institute last month, I really AM the only single woman not looking for love on online. Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration but results of the international survey find that in 2009 30% of newly cohabitating couples with access to the internet met online. If that number doesn’t surprise you then maybe this will – social networking sites are gaining on online dating sites as the most popular places to find love. 

The survey asked cohabitating couples from 18 different countries to report where they met their current partner and where they were looking for love at the time. Germans lead the pack in using the internet to find love with 29% of couples having met their current partner this way (for those who met since 1997) with Sweden right behind them at 28%. Greece and Ireland are among the lowest with fewer than 16% of couples meeting this way. 

Younger people may be more likely than older people to have met their current partner online, but this is only because this group had the broadest exposure to the Internet in the period of their life when they were looking for a mate. Couples who met each other when they were forty or older are significantly more likely to have met online than the younger generation. So for example, relationships that started when the couple were between 50 and 59 years old were more likely than any other group to have met their current partner online – 38% compared to only 19% for those between 20 and 29.

Gay men use online dating more than anyone else, with 50% using online dating sites to look for love, but then gay men are more likely to use any form of organized search than either heterosexual men or all women. The exception to this is searching through church affiliations and through family and friends. This last result is interesting because lesbians are more likely than heterosexual women to look for a partner through family and friends, and only slightly less likely to look at church (17% compared to 19%). 

Heterosexual men search in bars and clubs more than any other place, but they might be wasting their time not only because women are significantly less likely to search there (65% compared to 73%) but because that search method isn’t very successful; of those who searched in bars for a mate only 23% found their current partner that way.  

The most successful way of finding a mate, amusingly enough, was in a place that people don’t generally go to find love – their workplace. Of those who met their partner offline, 20% met at work. 

Church isn’t a great place to find love, not only did less than 2% of couples who met offline meet there, but only one in fifteen of those actively looking at church were successful.

Here is the interesting part though, for those who met their current partner online, only 38.5% met through website that had the specific purpose to help people find dates. The rest met in chat rooms (24%), social networking sites (14%), bulletin boards (8%) and a variety of different sites. 

Now you are thinking that I started off by saying that social networking is gaining on online dating as a place to find a mate and that 14% is a far cry from 38.5%, and you would be right. Here is the issue: My Space didn’t go online until 2003, the same year as Linkedln, and Facebook didn’t appeared until a year later. Given that the percentages quoted above include all couples that met since 1980, a significant share of these couples would have already met when social networking sites became available. If we could, and I really think the authors should, look only at couples who met after 2003, I think you would see the popularity of social networking sites converging on that of online dating.

There is some evidence to support this contention as well. Of people who met their partner since 1997, 30% looked for a relationship on a social networking site. That is 2% more than used online dating.   

This is an interesting report, but it is preliminary. There is one real problem that you should keep in mind if you decide to read it. The sample includes people who have been together between one and thirty years and the authors find that over time the number of cohabitating couples who have met online has increased dramatically. The only couples in the sample though are the ones who survived long enough as a couple to be included in the survey.  If people who met online are more, or less likely, to stay together this estimate is going to be off by a potentially wide margin. There are statistical ways to deal with that problem so we can look forward, hopefully, to some more meaningful results in the future.

Okay, I have to go now and update my Facebook status to say “Marina Adshade… is looking for love in all the wrong places.” 

Hogan, Bernie, William Dutton and Nai Li (2011). “A Global Shift in the Social Relationships of Networked Individuals: Meeting and Dating Online Comes of Age.”  


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