Online dating has gone big.
Yeah, you probably knew that, just instinctively maybe. Perhaps you caught your college-aged sister "swiping right" during holiday festivities last December.
Or maybe last week, your oft-divorced uncle announced over Facebook that he met the new love of his life via eHarmony.
Or maybe you're in the middle of your own free trail on Dating Site XYZ (which probably won't end up being actually free).
However you're experiencing it, online dating has undeniably gone mainstream-and it's not just your imagination.
According to a new online dating study by the Pew Research Center-which puts out heaps of studies every year on religion, race, economics, and other facets of American life-online dating is growing by leaps and bounds. Which is not so much a surprise as it is a confirmation.
The truth, confirmed by the Pew Research study, is that more American adults than ever (15%) are using dating sites and mobile apps to find love, over-inflate their positive attributes, cheat on their significant others, or just pass the time. In fact, that number has blown up, doubled over the last couple years. And with these greater numbers, the details of who's using online dating and how they're doing has shifted dramatically.
Here are the five biggest surprises from the new online dating study from the Pew Research Center:
Just a couple years ago, online dating was dominated by people 25 to 44. But not anymore. Since 2013, the young adults (18-24) in online dating has grown from just 11% to become the largest segment of online daters at 27%.
In fact, this new study found that online dating has absolutely pervaded the lives of young adults age 18 to 34. Consider these tidbits:
What's causing this surge in young adult online dating? Surely, part of it is coming from the fact that millennials pretty much live their entire waking lives online, connected. Online dating, then, has just become a natural extension of that.
And then there's this whole thing called mobile apps. As online dating has moved into apps on smartphones, tablets, phablets, etc., they seem to more easily caught the attention of young adults. This theory is backed by the fact that 22% of 18 to 24 year-olds use mobile dating apps-if you're keeping track, that's 81% of all online daters in that age group.
So are mobile dating apps responsible for bringing more young adults? It's not guaranteed but very likely.
Perhaps this was the reasoning behind the recent, seemingly ageist change in the Tinder mobile dating app's pricing, which inflated the fee for users 30 and over to twice the normal rate. And older online dater are likely delighted to leave the youngsters to their right- and left-swiping.
It is worth noting, however, that the numbers of online daters ages 45 to 64 have also grown dramatically over that same time period. So take that, Tinder!
Take a glance at your typical dating site and it seems like a pretty even spread of American adults from every background. But the new Pew study reveals that the more money you make and the more educated you are, the more likely you are to participate in online dating.
Check out this comparison by education level:
And then check out this comparison by income level:
It doesn't seem all that unreasonable when you think about it. In a recent post ("Online Dating Reviews: How Much Does It Cost to Find Love?") I calculated how much it can cost to use dating services like eHarmony (as much as $503/yr), Match.com ($323/yr), Zoosk ($410/yr), and Tinder ($239/yr). For people on tighter budgets, these fees might simply be too high.
And then there's the cost of the technology itself. If these dating services are tied into mobile devices and laptops, then those who are most likely to be able to afford these devices are going to be more likely to participate in online dating.
Old-fashioned dating isn't easy. You see this refrain again and again in reviews and dating sites. This review from an online dater named Susan in Garner, NC is typical:
"I was new to the area last year and working 6 to 7 days a week. In a new city isn't a great way to meet people and really how do you meet people? Go to a bar alone? I go to concerts but it's hard to have conversations at a show."
For busy, single professionals, online dating presents a more efficient way to meet and keep in contact with potential dates. The study found that 61% of online daters said it's an easier and more efficient way to find dates. Sixty-two percent felt online dating helped them find a better match for themselves.
Efficient? Yes, most seem to agree on that. Easier? How can it not be when you don't even have to leave your sofa to do it? But online daters also seem to agree on a much more negative aspect of online dating.
Forty-five percent of online daters believe it's a more dangerous way to meet people; 60% of non-online daters feel the same way.
Of course, this feeling is more prominent with female online daters-53% of them feel it's dangerous, compared to only 38% of male online daters.
Yes, it's true that the anonymity of online dating can bring out the creeps. Carjackings. Sexual assault. Identity fraud. Stalking. Dating sites and apps can be and have been used to perpetrate all of these activities and more (see my post "6 Horror Stories That Will Make You Think Twice").
While many of the top sites have begun to add features that perform background checks on their members, it's important that online daters still exercise caution when giving any information to other daters and especially when agreeing to meet them in person.
Online dating has thrived on the promise of helping folks find that special someone they can spend the rest of their lives with. Cue the montages of happy couples strolling on beaches, pushing each other on swings, sharing a giggle while sipping champagne, etc. But what if online dating is actually making people less likely to find this long-lasting monogamous bliss?
The Pew Research study found that 31% of online daters felt that online dating kept people from settling down. Thirty-two percent of non-online daters agreed.
But if these tools are all designed to encourage dating, what's the big hold-up? One could be that online dating sites and apps don't always deliver on that promise. Just listen to this Match.com review from customer Justin:
"Time wasters. The amount of times I've given my number out to someone who seemed keen and they don't bother getting in touch was shockingly bad. I have also experienced a fair bit of judgmental people including one who didn't want to talk to me because I ride a motorcycle."
And then, although dating sites have plenty of perfectly fine, stable individuals, there is the inevitable flood of untouchables, as described by Amanda of Charlotte, NC:
"There is a great chance to meet a lot of weirdos there. All people I talked to or met have decent profiles, nevertheless, my personal encounters include people like a creepy divorcee who cursed you on a date, an ugly guy that asked you to show up in high heels and tight club dress on a first date, a guy asked you to be his girlfriend one day and bailed out the next day and so on... It is a totally distort of a real world (or maybe it is a reflection?)."
"Distort" indeed. Online dating, without a doubt, has the tendency to bring out the strange and the awkward in people, like these special folks...
The study confirmed these attitudes, although not quite as harshly: 16% of online daters said people who use these services are desperate; 24% of non-online daters agreed.
So what do other real online daters say about the datings and apps they use? Check out our Online Dating Reviews page to find out!