Are Couples Who Meet Online More Likely to Break Up?

How does online dating and the internet shape our love life? There has been a lot of speculation that basically falls into two camps.Camp 1 believes that the overabundance of potential mates online will lead to relationship instability.  his camp relies on Choice Overload Theory, which states the larger the choice set available to people the worse decisions they will make. Think the relationship equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. The theory goes like this: The quantity of available partners (or food) would likely undermine a committed partnership (or a satisfying meal) because the sheer number of options would tempt people to keep looking for someone better. Or put this way: you’re not going to commit to finishing that chocolate pudding you picked up because you also want to try peach cobbler.Camp 2 thinks Choice Overload Theory is full of it. They believe that that having more options available will produce better matches and options available to people because choosing a dessert is very different from finding the right mate.People have continued to speculate but until now there was no longitudinal data that could tip the scales.In a recent study, Marriage, Choice, and Couplehood in the Age of the Internet, Michael Rosenfeld examined a national representative sample that shows meeting online does not predict couple breakup. As the author states, “I test whether meeting online is associated with higher or lower rates of breakup and higher or lower rates of transition to marriage. I show that couples who met online and offline have similar rates of breakup. I demonstrate that heterosexual couples who meet through online dating transition to marriage more quickly than other heterosexual couples.”

So neither Camp is right or wrong. Meeting someone online vs. offline does not predict how it will end. Still, there is one surprising caveat from the study. It did find that if you met online the relationship goes from dating to marriage at a much faster clip. Rosenfeld hypothesizes the reason for this is the internet makes gathering potential difficult information more efficient. Basically, you’ve weeded out all the tricky questions (prior STDs, favorite band, gun ownership, political views) in your online profile, so you can move to the next phase more quickly.

The taboo of online dating has begun to subside and it appears the relations formed online will likely last proportionately to offline relationships (divorce rate is hovering around 30 percent). Amazingly, it appears all the concerns about the quality of online matchmaking was without merit and that no matter where or how you met your mate, you have about the same shot as anyone when it comes to relationship longevity.

Side note: This study did not include Tinder and Grindr, which are geared toward hookups rather than committed relationships. So if that’s your thing continue swiping without fear of early marriage.

Marriage, Choice, and Couplehood in the Age of the Internet
Michael J. Rosenfeld
Sociological Science, 2017

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