Study Suggests Online Dating Produces Stronger Marriages

Photo (cc) by Don Hankins

Couples who first dated over the Internet have more satisfying marriages and are less likely to divorce, new research says.

The study involved 19,131 people married between 2005 and 2012, and it was funded by eHarmony.com.

Before you laugh, it’s worth noting the study was published in a top academic journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It also contains a conflict of interest statement saying the company agreed not to fight publication if it didn’t like the results.

A researcher with no skin in the game told USA Today that lead author John Cacioppo was “a serious scholar with a big reputation,” but he had quibbles about the methodology. Another said, “It’s a very impressive study, but conducted by an organization that might have an incentive to tell this story.” Cacioppo is a scientific adviser to eHarmony, and one of the co-authors worked for eHarmony in the past.

Skepticism aside, here are the key findings:

  • 35 percent of relationships began online.
  • 92 percent of all of the couples were still married.
  • 45 percent of those who met online did so through a dating site; others were through social networks, Web forums, video games, or other virtual chats.
  • The most popular dating sites are eHarmony (25 percent) and Match (24 percent).
  • “Males, 30- to 49-year-olds, Hispanics, individuals from higher socioeconomic status brackets, and working respondents” were more likely to report meeting their spouse online.
  • The happiest married couples who met offline were those who grew up together, or met at school, church, or social gatherings.
  • The least happy married couples met through work, family, bars, and blind dates.

Online couples separated at a rate of nearly 6 percent, while for couples who met offline it was 7.67 percent. On a scale of 1 (“Extremely Unhappy”) to 7 (“Perfect”), online relationships averaged 5.64 and offline relationships averaged 5.48.

Overall, the differences were slight, but clear. As always, the researchers said more work needed to be done — including with couples that had been married longer than seven years.

They suggested a few theories for why online couples might be slightly happier and stay together slightly more often. One is that “individuals who met their spouse online may differ, for example, in personality (e.g., impulsivity), motivation to form a long-term marital relationship, or some other factor.” They also might be more selective when picking a partner from a larger online pool of potential mates.

Finally, the researchers suggested that people might be more honest when they meet online: “Laboratory research has shown that self-disclosures and affiliation are generally greater when strangers first meet online rather than face-to-face, and that the differences in self-disclosure can explain the differences in liking.”

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