First Evidence That Online Dating Is Changing the Nature of Society
The way couples meet has changed as a result of dating websites. Now there’s evidence that this shift is having an impact on interracial marriage rates and even marriage stability.
Nobody met a partner online not long ago. Then came the first dating websites in the 1990s.
In 1995, Match.com was launched. In the early 2000s, a new wave of dating services, such as OKCupid, appeared. Tinder’s launch in 2012 revolutionized dating even more. More than one-third of all marriages now begin online.
These sites have clearly had a significant impact on dating behavior. However, new evidence is surfacing showing their impact is far greater.
Researchers have been studying the nature of the networks that connect people for more than 50 years. These social networks have an interesting trait.
One obvious sort of network connects each node to its closest neighbors in a chess board or chicken wire design. Another common type of network is one in which nodes are connected at random. Real social networks, on the other hand, are not like any of these. Instead, people are tightly attached to a small group of neighbors and only loosely related to people who live far away.
These seemingly insignificant links turn out to be crucial. According to Josue Ortega of the University of Essex in the United Kingdom and Philipp Hergovich of the University of Vienna in Austria, “those weak relationships function as bridges between our group of close friends and other clustered groups, allowing us to connect to the global community.”
Meeting partners has always relied heavily on loose links. While most people were unlikely to date one of their closest friends, they were much more likely to date people who were connected to their circle of friends, such as a friend of a friend. Dating partners were enmeshed in each other’s networks, according to network theory.
Indeed, surveys of how people meet their partners have long reflected this: through common friends, in bars, at work, at educational institutions, at church, through their families, and so on.
That has altered as a result of online dating. Heterosexual couples now meet for the second most popular reason: online dating. It is by far the most popular among homosexual couples.
This has far-reaching effects. According to Ortega and Hergovich, “people who meet online tend to be complete strangers.” When people meet in this way, they form social bonds that would not have existed otherwise.
The subject that Ortega and Hergovich look into is how this affects societal racial diversity. “Understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is a critical subject, because intermarriage is commonly seen in contemporary societies as a measure of social distance,” they write.
The researchers begin by modelling what happens in a social network when new links are added. Their network is made up of men and women of various races who are spread at random. Everyone desires to marry someone of the opposing sex in this paradigm, but they can only marry someone with whom they have a bond. As a result, interracial marriage is uncommon in today’s society.
However, when the researchers include random connections between persons from various ethnic groups, the rate of interracial marriage rises considerably. “Our model forecasts practically perfect racial integration with the rise of internet dating,” Ortega and Hergovich write, “even if the number of partners that individuals meet from newly formed relationships is small.”
There’s also a second unexpected effect. The researchers compare the average distance between partners before and after the introduction of internet dating to determine the strength of marriages. “Our model also predicts that marriages formed in a culture where online dating is prevalent are more likely to be successful,” they add.
The researchers then compare the results of their models to actual interracial marriage rates in the United States. This has been on the rise for a while, although the rates remain modest, owing to the fact that interracial marriage was prohibited in several parts of the country until 1967.
However, around the time that online dating became popular, the rate of increase altered. “It is noteworthy that the percentage of new marriages produced by multiracial couples climbed substantially shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, such as Match.com,” the researchers write.
In the 2000s, as internet dating got even more popular, the trend became even more pronounced. Then, in 2014, the percentage of interracial marriages increased once more. “It’s notable that this rise coincides with the launch of Tinder, widely regarded as the most popular online dating app,” they write.
There are, of course, other reasons that could be contributing to the rise in interracial marriages. One theory is that the tendency is due to a decrease in the percentage of white Americans. If marriages were random, the number of interracial marriages would grow, but not by the amount observed. “The huge increase in intermarriage that we observe cannot be explained by a change in the population composition in the United States,” Ortega and Hergovich say.
As a result, online dating is the primary driver of this shift. If that’s the case, the model suggests that the change will continue.
That’s a profound insight. These changes are expected to continue, with societal benefits as a result.