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UPDATED: Eharmony-Funded Study Shows Meeting Online Leads to Better Marriages

Over one-third of recently married couples met online. But some online singles spots are seedier than others.

UPDATED: Eharmony-Funded Study Shows Meeting Online Leads to Better Marriages

UPDATED: The original version of this post failed to note that the study, while published in a peer reviewed scientific journal, was funded by the dating site eHarmony. The author, a professor at the University of Chicago, is a paid “scientific advisor” to the website and a coauthor is a former director of an affiliated research lab.

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When it comes to love, the algorithms may know better than your mom.

A nationally representative scientific sample of over 19,000 married and divorced people found that almost 35% of couples who married between 2005 and 2012 originally met each other online. The couples who met online were less likely to divorce, even after controlling for age, education, income, and race. Meeting over the web was also independently correlated with higher levels of marital satisfaction.

This study was unusual because it actually discriminated between types of online venues. While a whopping 45% of the total who met online did it the old-fashioned way, on a designated dating site, and another 20% hooked up through social networking (no word whether Bang With Friends was involved), others took the less beaten path. 9.5% of happy couples first connected through chat rooms, 3.59% through multiplayer games, 2.13% through virtual worlds, and 1.89% through discussion groups or posting boards (Reddit Love, anybody?). 1.59% of respondents even met spouses through the comment section of a blog.

Unfortunately for fans of the accidental online meet-cute, it apparently makes a difference whether you first encounter your honey in the wholesome, well-lit hotel ballrooms of Match.com and eHarmony, the banal, crowded corridors of Facebook, or while costumed as a purple-and-blue Draenei in World of Warcraft.
Meeting on most dating sites, with the exception of Yahoo, predicted higher marital satisfaction; meeting in an online community or chatroom was worse for your union. (There were similar effects for couples who met in various venues offline: Meeting through work or a blind date was worse than meeting through school.)

This study says a lot about the different kinds of “neighborhoods” that people frequent online, and the culture created by community norms and expectations in different places around the web. The researchers noted that it’s impossible to say whether the relative success of professional dating sites has to do with their much-touted systems for matching people, or simply the fact that everyone on those websites has already admitted that they’re looking for a match. In either case, dating and marriage may be the ultimate example of hybridization between our online and offline social networks.

[Image: Flickr user Patrik Jones]

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.

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