There is now relatively broad public contact with the online dating world. Yet, dating sites are just one of many online avenues that facilitate romantic connections.
Most online Americans who are single and looking for dates have used the internet to pursue their romantic interests and millions more Americans know people who have tried and succeeded at online dating.
In a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, there are two central findings that illustrate how important the internet has become for those seeking romance in 21st Century America: First, among the relatively small and active cohort of 10 million internet users who say they are currently single and looking for romantic partners, 74% say they have used the internet in one way or another to further their romantic interests. Second, there is relatively broad public contact with the online dating world because significant numbers of Americans personally know others who have tried and succeeded at online dating. Some 15% of those in this survey of the general public – representing about 30 million Americans – say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone they met online. Twice as many know someone who has at least dabbled in the online dating scene.
31% of American adults—63 million people—say they know someone who has used a dating website.
26% of American adults—53 million people—say they know someone who has gone on a date with a person they met through a dating site.
15% of American adults—30 million people—say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone he or she met online.
At the same time, most internet users believe online dating is dangerous because it puts personal information online and they also think that many online daters lie about their marital status.
Most internet users (66%) agree with the statement that online dating is a dangerous activity because it puts personal information on the internet. Some 25% do not consider online dating dangerous. Female internet users, older users, and those who have lower levels of income or education are among the most wary of these risks.
Those who have actually used the services are more confident; 43% think that the activity involves risk, while 52% do not see the activity as dangerous. In a separate question, 6% of online daters say that dating websites do an “excellent” job of protecting people’s personal information, while 32% say they do a “good” job. Another 33% rate the services as “fair” and 12% say the websites do a “poor” job of protecting their information.
In addition, 57% of internet users agree that a lot of people who use online dating lie about their marital status; while 18% disagree, and 25% say they do not know. Those with lower levels of income or education are more likely than the average internet user to suspect that people lie.
Just over half (52%) of online daters agree that a lot people are dishonest about being married, while 32% disagree, and 15% say they do not know. The internet users who are single and looking for dates report similar views.
While some stigma about online dating persists, most internet users do not view it simply as a last resort.
The majority (61%) of online adults do not think that people who use online dating are “desperate.” However, 29% hold the view that online daters are in dire dating straits. Internet users who are single and looking for dates are less likely to hold this negative view; only 20% agree that online daters are desperate.
Those who do regard online daters as desperate tend to have less experience online and say they are less trusting of people generally. And although online men are more likely than online women to view dating services as a good way to meet people, they are also more likely to categorize online daters as a desperate group.
One in ten internet users say they have personally gone to dating websites.
Those who are in the market for online dating services are a relatively specific group. Looking at the total internet population, 11% of all American internet-using adults—about 16 million people—say they have gone to an online dating website or other site where they can meet people online. We call them online daters in this report.
Our survey also finds that, at the moment, 7% of online adults, or about 10 million people, say they are currently seeking romantic partners. Within this group, 37% have gone to a dating website.
Online Daters are defined here as internet users who have gone to an online dating website or other site where they can meet people online.
43% of all online daters, or nearly 7 million adults, have gone on dates with people they met through the sites and 17% of them, nearly 3 million adults, have entered long-term relationships or married their online dating partners.
3% of the internet users who are married or in long-term committed relationships say they met their partners online. That also represents about 3 million people.
A majority of online daters report good experiences with the sites.
Of the 16 million people who have been to online dating sites, 52% say they had mostly positive experiences. At the same time, a sizable segment, 29%, report mostly negative experiences. Few offer a mixed response: just 7% say they had both positive and negative experiences. The remaining 12% say they do not know or decline a response.
Still, the general online public is evenly divided over the merits of online dating. While 44% agree that internet dating is a “good way to meet people,” the same percentage disagrees with that statement. A sizable segment, 11%, says they do not know. Online men (48%) have a greater tendency to see the benefits of online dating when compared with online women (41%). And, in general, the younger the internet user, the more likely he or she is to rate the services favorably.
Online daters believe dating websites help people to find a better match because they can get to know a lot more people.
Most online daters think that using internet dating services helps to open up the playing field. Fully 64% agree that online dating helps people find a better match because they have access to a larger pool of potential dates, while just 31% disagree with this assessment. Another 6% say they do not know whether or not online dating facilitates better connections.
The general online public is less certain, but generally supportive of the notion that online dating facilitates better pairing. Looking at the total population of internet users, 47% agree that online dating allows people to find a better match because the pool of potential mates is larger online. Another 38% disagree, and 15% say they do not know.
There are uses of the internet beyond dating websites that have woven themselves into the world of romance.
Dating websites are just one of many online avenues that can lead to a romantic connection. Those who describe themselves as single and looking for a partner comprise a relatively small segment of the online population that totals about 10 million people. They use the internet both as a roadmap for the offline world and as a destination to meet people by marshaling things like search engines, email, and instant messaging to connect with a romantic partner.
Some 74% of those in this cohort report that they have used the internet in at least one way to facilitate dating and romance.
The table below lists the various dating-related activities included in our survey:
Only 16% of single American adults are actively looking for dating partners.
The State of Romance in America
Most young singles in America do not describe themselves as actively looking for romantic partners. Even those who are seeking relationships are not dating frequently. About half (49%) had been on no more than one date in the previous three months.
These findings emerge from a national survey conducted last fall by the Pew Internet & American Life Project looking at the place of online dating in the larger picture of relationships in America. The survey found that dating in America is, indeed, affected by online matchmaking activity. But in analyzing our findings, we discovered another story: Large numbers of single Americans are not actively looking for relationships and even significant numbers of those looking for partners are not that active on the dating scene.
At first glance, the survey results suggest ample targets for Cupid among American adults. The table below shows that while the majority of American adults (56% or 113 million people) are not in the dating market (they are married or living as married), the number of potential romance-seekers is still huge. Fully 43% of adults (87 million people) say they are single. These data generally align with findings from a 50,000-household survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2004.1
In general, marriage patterns have ebbed and flowed over time. Census data show fairly consistent patterns throughout the first half of the 20th century with a swing towards marriage in the 1950s and 1960s. Marriage rates then receded as the ranks of both the widowed and the never-married increased.
Only 16% of single Americans say they are hunting for a partner. That group represents 7% of the entire adult population.Â Â
While a sizable segment of the population is single, about a quarter of unmarried Americans (26% or about 23 million adults) say they are in committed romantic relationships. Single men are more likely than single women to report being so situated. Yet among the uncommitted, relatively few say they are in the market for relationships.
Among all singles, just 16% say they are currently looking for a romantic partner. That amounts to 7% of the adult population. Some 55% of singles report no active interest in seeking a romantic partner. This is especially true for women, for those who have been widowed or divorced, and for older singles. Yet even among the youngest adults, the zest for romance is somewhat muted: 38% of singles ages 18-29 say they are not currently looking for a romantic partner, compared to 22% in that age cohort who are looking for partners. The rest say they are in committed relationships.
Most relationship-seeking singles say it is difficult to meet people in their towns. Â
No doubt many reasons underlie the relatively small size of the active dating population. One suggested by this surveyâ€™s findings is the type of community in which singles live.
When singles who are actively looking for partners were asked about the dating scene where they live, a majority of those actively seeking dates (55%) said it was difficult to meet people. Only 43% said it was easy, while 2% said they didnâ€™t know.
Moreover, when asked to describe the dating possibilities where they live, a plurality, 47%, said there were very few single people in their town they would be interested in dating. Another 41% said there were lots of single people in their town that seemed interesting but 10% said they didnâ€™t know much about the local singles scene.
Perhaps not surprisingly, finding suitable partners is easier in urban areas than in suburban areas, and far easier than in rural areas. As shown in the table, 57% of city dwellers who are looking for dates say there is plenty of dating potential in their communities compared with 38% of date-seeking suburbanites and only 21% of date seekers residing in rural settings. By the same token, substantially more urbanites who are looking for dates (58%) find it easy to meet people in their communities than do suburbanites and rural residents.
Whatever the reasons, few of todayâ€™s seeking singles describe themselves as active on the dating scene.Â Asked how many dates they had been on in the past three months, singles who said they were in the dating market reported the following:
36% said they had been on no dates in the previous three months.
13% had been one date.
22% had been on 2-4 dates
25% had been on 5 or more dates.
The subpopulation of dating singles in our survey sample is too small to produce highly reliable demographic breakdowns on this dating question. But in our modest sample, urban residents were more likely to be active daters than were suburbanites or rural residents. Perhaps more surprisingly, single men said they had been less active daters than single women.
A look at whoâ€™s committed.
Despite the challenges of finding a mate, a majority of American adults have found marriage partners or long-term relationships. And two-thirds (68%) of those in marriages or in households living as married said they had been in those relationships for longer than five years. Overall:
47% of all adult Americansâ€“about 95 million peopleâ€“have been married or in a committed relationship for more than five years.
26% of all American adultsâ€“about 53 million peopleâ€“are not married and are not looking for a romantic partner.
21% of all adult Americansâ€“about 42 million peopleâ€“are married or in a committed relationship for less than five years.
7% of all adult Americansâ€“about 14 million peopleâ€“are not married or in a committed relationship and are actively looking for romantic partners.
Some key demographic dimensions of each group are shown in the table below:
In general, those with college degrees and higher levels of household income are significantly more likely to be married than those with high school diplomas and those living in households with more modest levels of income. African-Americans and English-speaking Hispanics are more likely than whites never to have married.
Among internet users, how the married and the committed met each other.
In our sample of internet users, we found that those who are in serious long-term relationships or marriage are equally as likely to have met through friends or in a work or school setting. Still, bars remain a relatively popular place for long-term relationships to begin. Here is a rundown from the survey of how the internet users in marriages or long-term relationships first encountered each other.
38% met at work or school.
34% met through family or friends.
13% met at a nightclub, bar, cafÃ©, or other social gathering
3% met through the internet.
2% met at church.
1% met by chance, such as on the street.
1% met because they lived in the same neighborhood.
1% met at a recreational facility like a gym.
1% met on a blind date or through a dating service.
The remainder cited a variety of other ways they met, such as growing up together.
While the survey provides no direct evidence that the internet can take credit for the higher rates of wedlock among its users, it does show that internet date-seeking has become increasingly popular. UPDATE: A detailed look at online dating is now available at:Â http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/Online-Dating.aspx’>http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/Online-Dating.aspx
Note: Further table developed by Mary Madden in response to queries about this data.
The most recent data on marriage and divorce published by the U.S. Census Bureau can be found at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/marr-div.html’>http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/marr-div.html ↩