Re-emerging Trends: Online dating
In this article, Questia Group focuses on online dating. Our research was conducted through an online survey on our platform www.questia.ro covering 497 respondents. The survey was active between 26 and 28 September 2017. Our key findings are presented below.
Online dating, or the hook-up culture was described as the ‘dating apocalypse’ throughout the Western media. Some sociologists say that algorithms almost kill people’s sensitivity abilities and dating apps have more or less transformed modern courtship into a type of commodified game. Other studies say Bauman’s argument is rather pessimistic and downplay the positives of ‘networked intimacy’. However, there are so many studies, using so many different methodologies (and getting funding from so many deeply invested companies) that it is quite easy for someone to just cherry-pick one finding or statistic and run really, really far with it.
By dating sites we refer to those Web sites that primarily focus on offering the user opportunities to form a new romantic relationship that has the potential to become a dating and perhaps a long-term committed relationship, such as marriage. By online dating (or Internet dating) we refer to the practice of using dating sites to find a romantic partner.
Up to now, it is obvious that the internet has disrupted the way people relate to relationships. Some authors suggest that “If one believes that the health of society depends on the strength of the local traditional institutions of family, church, primary school, and neighborhood, then one might be reasonably concerned about the partial displacement of those traditional institutions by the Internet.” Some authors found no differences in relationship quality or strength between couples who met online and couples who met off. Rosenfeld also found that online dating had been a huge boon to people in “thin dating markets” — think LGBT daters or older women — and hypothesized that marriage and partnership rates of Americans would actually rise as more of these people got online.
Another study backs up this finding: "the Internet expansion is associated with increased marriage rates” among 20-somethings, and hypothesizes that the relationship is causal — in other words, that greater access to online dating, online social networks and other means of communicating with strangers directly causes people to pair up. However, this doesn’t definitively prove a causal relationship, it’s still very possible that the two things just tend to go hand-in-hand, and don’t contribute to each other.
Recent data show an intriguing aspect of online dating: that dating site algorithms are meaningless. Data suggests that the “matching algorithms” are only negligibly better at matching people than random chance. A study published by Northwestern University’s Eli Finkel and four co-authors in the journal “Psychological Science in the Public Interest,” explains that relationship success basically depends on three things: individual characteristics, the quality of interaction and surrounding circumstances (e.g. health or financial status). Because matching algorithms tend to focus on personality alone, authors suggest that this is problematic. Moreover, major, large-scale studies of married couples have shown that the similarity of partners’ personalities accounts for only half a percent of how happy they are. The authors suggest that online dating is fundamentally different from conventional offline dating, yet online dating does not necessarily promote better romantic outcomes than conventional offline dating.
Consumer awareness for online dating is high: three-quarters (79.3%) say they heard of online dating, while only 20.7% have not. Dating sites and apps have become popular in Romania, especially with the penetration of the Internet. Overall, in the late 1990s and early 2000 online dating started becoming more mainstream and shedding its stigma (e.g., Harmon, 2003; Lawrence, 2004; Tracy, 2006).
Most people say that they haven’t used an online dating app/site before, while only more than a quarter used such an app/site for dating (161 respondents). The two strongest predictors of engaging in online dating are being an Internet user and being single (Sautter et al., 2010).
Finkel and co. (2012) explain that online dating is especially prevalent among people who:
- have a minority sexual orientation (Hogan et al., 2011; Rosenfeld, 2010);
- who have recently moved to a new area or experienced a breakup (Yurchisin, Watchravesringkan, & McCabe, 2005);
- who are middle-aged rather than young-adult (G. Gonzaga, 2011; Hogan et al., 2011; Rosenfeld, 2010; Stephure, Boon, MacKinnon, & Deveau, 2009; Valkenburg & Peter, 2007; Whitty & Buchanan, 2009);
- who are divorced rather than never-married (Sautter et al., 2010);
- who have limited time to meet potential partners because of factors such as working long hours or being a single parent (Barraket & Henry-Waring, 2008);
- or who have lost interest in the bar scene and lack insight into or options for where they can meet singles, especially appealing singles, in their age range (Long, 2010).
Out of those who used an online dating app/site, the most popular are Badoo, Tinder and Tagged. All three apps represent location-based online dating (or mobile dating) that capitalize on mobile Internet technology and global positioning system functionality to inform users of potential partners in the immediate vicinity. They belong to the third generation of dating sites (started in 2008 after Apple opened its App Store).
The first generation represents the online personal advertisement sites, while the second one is made of algorithm-based matching sites. The first generation began in earnest when Match launched in 1995. The second generation began when eHarmony launched in 2000, ushering in a new online dating service: represent “science-based” online matching systems, also referred to as algorithm-based matching or compatibility matching. In recent years, the distinction between self-selection sites and algorithm-selection sites has blurred.
Users are divided in their views that such apps are a good way to meet people. In this manner, 50.3% say they went on a date with a person they met via online dating, while 48.4% say they didn’t.
Asked what are the positive aspects of online dating, users said that the possibility to meet new people and the possibility to make easier conversations are the top clear-cutting aspects. On the other hand, the fact that people over exaggerate their information, and data confidentiality are the top negative aspects that people identified.
The findings are in line with previous research regarding “science-based” online dating: access, communication, and matching are seen as key differentiators from conventional offline dating. However, as previously noted, regarding matching, no compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work— that they foster romantic outcomes that are superior to those fostered by other means of pairing partners.
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