This is what happens when you get pushed beyond your social circle.
by Drake Baer, Senior writer at Thrive Global covering the brain and social sciences.
About one in three marriages in America today happen between people who met online. In a way, that’s not surprising, given how Tinder alone produces 26 million matches a day.
What’s surprising, contrary to some earlier reports on how online dating was creating a dating apocalypse, is that all that right-swiping may be bettering society. Economists Josué Ortega and Philipp Hergovich charted two examples in a recent paper: using mathematical models and demographic trend data, they argue that since online dating pushes people outside of their standard social networks, it’s likely catalyzing a boom in interracial marriage. It’s also probably making new marriages stronger.
It’s worth taking a moment to consider how historically weird—and important—online dating is for how people form relationships. Romantic ties have traditionally come through friends, family, school or work. Not so today: “It was very hard to marry a complete stranger in the past,” Ortega, a lecturer at the University of Essex, explained to Thrive Global over email. “Even if you met your spouse in a bar without knowing her, it is likely that people who are like you go to the same bars you go.”
According to the findings from Ortega and Hergovich, a PhD student at the University of Vienna, the way online dating pulls people outside of their network means they can find better personality compatibility with potential partners. “Our mathematical model measures the strength of marriages by how close are you to your partner in the personality traits that matter to you,” Ortega says. “If you are very close to your partner, it means that even if very attractive new agents enter to our model, your marriage would still survive, whereas marriages between partners who are very different are likely to break up.” (The researchers use personality fit as a proxy for the strength of marriages, he adds, so they can measure fit mathematically.)
The limited research on outcomes in online dating suggests much the same. A 2013 paper that included more than 19,000 respondents found that marriages that began online were less likely to break up than their offline peers. Out of all of the marriages that did last, couples who met online reported slightly higher relationship satisfaction.
Whether this is due to personality fit is another, perhaps more complicated, question. Among people who were already couples and studied during midlife, having greater personality similarity actually lead to decreasing marital satisfaction over the 12-year study period. With college students, similarity improved relationship satisfaction when people agreed on things they deemed important, like religion or recreational interests.
Regardless of the exact reason why couples who meet online are more satisfied, it makes sense that having more options would allow for finding a better fit. “Intuitively, and without math, why marriages created after online dating occurs are better is because online dating gives you more choices while searching for a partner,” Ortega says. “You could think of it like attending a larger party: you have higher chances of matching with someone who is interested in you.”