Online dating (and dating apps in particular) gets its fair share of bad press, whether it's for causing a "dating apocalypse" or concerns over users' privacy. But new research suggests that it's not all doom and gloom. In fact, sites like Match.com and apps like Tinder could be contributing to a stronger, more diverse society.
In the olden days, people relied on (offline) social networks consisting of strong and loose connections to meet prospective partners. Loose ties are acquaintances or friends of friends, and it's these connections sociologists say play an important role in meeting dating partners. After all, people are less likely to form a romantic relationship with a close friend and more likely to date a person connected to their friendship group, or someone they met at a bar, at work, or college.
There's been a huge shift in dating culture in the last two decades. Today online dating is the second most common way for a heterosexual couple to meet and the most common for homosexual couples. So Josue Ortega, from the University of Essex, UK, and Philipp Hergovich, from the University of Vienna, Austria, decided it was time to explore how it affects society. To do this, they built a virtual network of men and women from different races. For simplicity, each "agent" was looking to marry a member of the opposite sex.
First, they programmed the model to show what would happen if those agents could only marry those they had a mutual connection with, say a friend of a friend. This produced low levels of interracial marriages.
Next, they reprogrammed the system to include additional links (representing online dating matches) so that two agents, previously unconnected, had the chance to meet and marry. Levels of interracial pairings dramatically increased.
So, does it reflect what's happening in the real world? Afterall, the simplicity of the model doesn't account for agents' preferences or real-life obstacles.
It turns out, rates of interracial marriages remain low in the US (6.3 percent) and UK (9 percent), but these numbers have risen significantly since the advent of online dating. In the noughts, numbers of interracial couples increased by 50 percent. More recently, apps like Tinder are accelerating the trend.
“It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like Match.com, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” the authors explained in a preprint of their study available to view on arXiv.
The researchers acknowledge that at the results show a correlation, not a cause and effect, between online dating and interracial marriages. There are also other factors to consider, such as changing demographics and social attitudes. Still, it makes an interesting argument, especially now that one-third of newlyweds meet online.