And though online dating has received its fair share of bad press with accusations of fueling hook-up culture, stories of scam artists and of first dates gone wrong, new research shows online dating has influenced the nature of society in some positive ways.
For their study, economics professors Josue Ortega at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna in Austria examined how online dating has changed the racial diversity of society.
The authors hypothesized that internet dating services may be a driving force behind stronger marriages, interracial partnerships and a primary way for people to connect with those outside their social circles.
“Understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is an important problem, for intermarriage is widely considered a measure of social distance in our societies,” the authors told MIT Technology Review.
They created a simulated model network of men and women of different racial backgrounds in which everyone wants to marry a person of the opposite sex, but can only marry someone with whom they have a connection.
The model is a reflection of society, which Ortega and Hergovich said is essentially “a web of interlinked nodes.”
According to the professors, most people are connected to close friends and family (and some others) with about 100 nodes. And changing the network, like building new highways, can completely change how the network functions, they said.
“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,” Ortega and Hergovich told MIT Technology Review.
They then compared the model results with the rates of interracial marriage in the U.S.
Since the 1967 Loving v Virginia U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized marriage across racial lines, intermarriage has increased steadily, according to the Pew Research Center.
In 2015, Pew found that one-in-six American newlyweds (17 percent) married a person of a different race or ethnicity. In 1967, only 3 percent did.
“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,” they said.
But it’s possible that, as MIT Technology Review noted, the reduction in the percentage of white Americans was a contributing factor in the rise of interracial marriages in the U.S.
Still, research authors said the change in the population’s composition can’t fully explain the huge increase in intermarriage.
Overall, according to Pew research, more and more American adults (approximately 39 percent in 2015) say interracial marriage is generally good for American society.
In 2010, only 24 percent of American adults said it was a positive trend.
The professors’ model also predicted that marriages established online are more robust and less likely to end in divorce, a hypothesis backed by previous research from the University of Florida in 2013.
The pre-published version of the study is available online at arxiv.org and is currently undergoing its full peer-review process.