"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Meeting online may lead to more successful marriages

June 3, 2013
Courtesy of the University of Chicago
and World Science staff

If you’re still turn­ing up your nose at “on­line dat­ing,” you might want to think again.

Cou­ples who met on­line have slightly hap­pi­er, long­er mar­riages, ac­cord­ing to new re­search, which al­so found that more than a third of mar­riages be­tween 2005 and 2012 be­gan on­line. 

Al­though the study did­n’t de­ter­mine rea­sons for this on­line ad­van­tage, re­search­ers said they may in­clude the strong mo­tiva­t­ions of on­line daters, the avail­abil­ity of ad­vance screen­ing, and the sheer vol­ume of op­por­tun­i­ties on­line.

“The In­ter­net may be al­ter­ing the dy­nam­ics and out­comes of mar­riage it­self,” said the stu­dy’s lead au­thor, Uni­vers­ity of Chi­ca­go psy­chol­o­gist John Ca­cioppo. The find­ings are pub­lished in this week’s early on­line is­sue of the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­t­ional Acad­e­my of Sci­ences.

Meet­ing on­line has be­come an in­creas­ingly com­mon way to find a part­ner, with op­por­tun­i­ties aris­ing through so­cial net­works, e­mail ex­changes, in­stant mes­sages, mul­ti­-player games and on­line com­mun­i­ties, the re­search­ers said.

Mar­riage breakups were re­ported in about 6 per­cent of the peo­ple who met on­line, com­pared with 7.6 per­cent who met of­fline. Mar­riages for peo­ple who met on­line re­ported a mean score of 5.64 on a sat­is­fac­tion sur­vey, com­pared with a score of 5.48 for peo­ple who met of­fline. The sur­vey was based on ques­tions about their hap­pi­ness with their mar­riage and de­gree of af­fec­tion, com­munica­t­ion and love for each oth­er.

Ca­cioppo led a team that ex­am­ined the re­sults of what they called a rep­re­sent­a­tive sam­ple of 19,131 peo­ple who re­sponded to a sur­vey by Har­ris In­ter­ac­tive about their mar­riages and sat­is­fac­tion.

The study found a wide va­ri­e­ty of venues where peo­ple met. About 45 per­cent met through an on­line dat­ing site. Peo­ple who met on­line were more likely to be old­er (30 to 39 is the larg­est age group rep­re­sent­ed); em­ployed and had a high­er in­come. The group was di­verse ra­cially and eth­nic­ally.

Peo­ple who met of­fline found mar­riage part­ners at var­i­ous venues in­clud­ing work, school, church, so­cial gath­er­ings, clubs and bars, and places of wor­ship. Among the least suc­cess­ful mar­riages were those in which peo­ple met at bars, through blind dates and in vir­tu­al worlds (where in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­act in on­line spaces via avatars), the re­search­ers found.

Rela­t­ion­ships that start on­line may ben­e­fit from se­lec­ti­vity and the fo­cused na­ture of on­line dat­ing, the au­thors said. The dif­fer­ences in mar­i­tal out­comes from on­line and of­fline meet­ings per­sisted af­ter con­trol­ling for de­mo­graph­ic dif­fer­ences, but “in­di­vid­u­als who met their spouse on­line may be dif­fer­ent in per­son­al­ity, mo­tiva­t­ion to form a long-term mar­i­tal rela­t­ion­ship, or some oth­er fac­tor,” said Ca­cioppo. 

Meet­ing on­line al­so may pro­vide a larg­er pool of pro­spec­tive mar­riage part­ners, along with ad­vance screen­ing in the case of dat­ing ser­vic­es. And al­though de­cep­tion of­ten oc­curs on­line, stud­ies sug­gest that peo­ple are rel­a­tively hon­est in on­line dat­ing en­coun­ters; the lies tend to be mi­nor mis­rep­re­senta­t­ions of weight or height.

“Mar­i­tal out­comes are in­flu­enced by a va­ri­e­ty of fac­tors. Where one meets their spouse is only one con­tri­but­ing fac­tor, and the ef­fects of where one meets one’s spouse are un­der­standably quite small and do not hold for ev­ery­one,” Ca­cioppo said. “The re­sults of this study are nev­er­the­less en­cour­ag­ing, giv­en the par­a­digm shift in terms of how Amer­i­cans are meet­ing their spous­es.”

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If you’re still turning up your nose at “online dating,” you might want to think again. Couples who met online have happier, longer marriages, according to new research, which also found that more than a third of marriages between 2005 and 2012 began online. Although the study didn’t determine reasons for this online advantage, researchers said they may include the strong motivations of online daters, the availability of advance screening, and the sheer volume of opportunities online. “The Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself,” said the study’s lead author, University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo. The findings are published in this week’s early online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Meeting online has become an increasingly common way to find a partner, with opportunities arising through social networks, email exchanges, instant messages, multi-player games and online communities, the researchers said. Marriage breakups were reported in about 6 percent of the people who met online, compared with 7.6 percent who met offline. Marriages for people who met online reported a mean score of 5.64 on a satisfaction survey, compared with a score of 5.48 for people who met offline. The survey was based on questions about their happiness with their marriage and degree of affection, communication and love for each other. Cacioppo led a team that examined the results of what they called a representative sample of 19,131 people who responded to a survey by Harris Interactive about their marriages and satisfaction. The study found a wide variety of venues, both online and offline, where people met. About 45 percent met through an online dating site. People who met online were more likely to be older (30 to 39 is the largest age group represented); employed and had a higher income. The group was diverse racially and ethnically. People who met offline found marriage partners at various venues including work, school, church, social gatherings, clubs and bars, and places of worship. Among the least successful marriages were those in which people met at bars, through blind dates and in virtual worlds (where individuals interact in online spaces via avatars), the researchers found. Relationships that start online may benefit from selectivity and the focused nature of online dating, the authors said. The differences in marital outcomes from online and offline meetings persisted after controlling for demographic differences, but “individuals who met their spouse online may be different in personality, motivation to form a long-term marital relationship, or some other factor,” said Cacioppo. Meeting online also may provide a larger pool of prospective marriage partners, along with advance screening in the case of dating services. And although deception often occurs online, studies suggest that people are relatively honest in online dating encounters; the lies tend to be minor misrepresentations of weight or height. “Marital outcomes are influenced by a variety of factors. Where one meets their spouse is only one contributing factor, and the effects of where one meets one’s spouse are understandably quite small and do not hold for everyone,” Cacioppo said. “The results of this study are nevertheless encouraging, given the paradigm shift in terms of how Americans are meeting their spouses.”