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It may come as no surprise to read this, but according to new research, online dating is the most popular way to meet a partner. 

A new study by Stanford researcher Michael Rosenfeld shows that between 2009-17, almost 40% of heterosexual relationships began online.

The paper, which is yet to published, presents data from a 2017 survey of American adults which shows that for heterosexual people, online dating is now the most popular way to couple up. 

Previously, the best way to meet up was through friends and family, meaning we’re trusting algorithms more than recommendations from within our existing social circles. That, and the fact that dating apps provide a much wider choice than our ‘human’ network can provide us. In other words, our love lives are being determined by robots.

A time before the internet

Before 1995, when the first dating site Match.com was launched, people tended to meet their other half through their already-established social circles. In 1995, friends matched up 33% of couples, family members got 15% of people together, 19% of couples were introduced by their co-workers and 19% of people met in a bar or restaurant.

In 2017, 39% of couples met online (compared to just 2% in 1995). Just 20% of people now meet through mutual friends, down from 33% in 1995, but 27% of couples now meet in a bar or restaurant, an increase of 8% in the past 18 years. 

The study into online dating isn’t the first academic paper to look at tech’s impact on our sex and love lives. 

For homosexual couples, online dating has been the most common way to meet since the dawn of the internet. In 2009, the majority of same-sex couples met online, as researchers Michael Rosenfeld and Reuben Thomas found in their co-authored 2012 paper looking at the ‘Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary‘.

In the paper, they say: “The most striking difference between the way same-sex couples meet and the way heterosexual couples meet is the dominance of the Internet among same-sex couples who met after 2000, with more than 60% of same-sex couples meeting online in 2008 and 2009.”

Rosenfeld’s most recent research shows just how quickly online dating has dominated our love lives. In 2017, researchers Josue Ortega from the University of Essex and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna found that online dating was the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. That means, in two years, online dating has nudged its way to be at the top. 

Online dating is improving social integration

Ortega and Hergovich’s paper was looking at how social integration is affected by the increasing popularity of online dating. 

When the researchers conducted the study, they used a model to add random links between people from different ethnic groups, and saw the level of interracial marriages changed dramatically. This is because when you match with a stranger on Tinder who you have no mutual friends with, ‘extra links’ are introduced into your social network, ie people who you may never have met become a part of your life.

“Our model predicts nearly complete racial integration upon the emergence of online dating, even if the number of partners that individuals meet from newly-formed ties is small,” they said in the report. 

Comparing their model to US stats, interracial marriages rose in 1995, when online dating was first introduced, and again saw a spike in the early 2000s (when dating sites were gaining in popularity) and 2014, two years after Tinder launched. While this doesn’t prove that online dating caused this rise, it looks as if the two could be linked.

Their research also predicts that marriages tend to be stronger in a society with online dating, with some evidence suggesting that married couples who meet online have lower rates of separation than those who met traditionally.

So, while old-school romantics may lament the fact algorithms are determining our relationships, science shows that getting strangers together is good for the planet.

Read Next: Dating apps have never been great for women, but will reviews from matches really make that better?

Tara L

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