March 5, 2006

Romance blossoms on the internet, but there is still public concern about the safety of online dating

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2006 –There is now broad public awareness of the online dating world, and the internet users who are actively seeking dates have found a variety of ways to pursue their romantic interests online.

Some 31% of American adults say they know someone who has used a dating website and 15% of American adults – about 30 million people – say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone he or she met online.

While online dating is becoming more commonplace, there are strong concerns in the wider public about the dangers of posting personal information on dating sites and about the honesty of those who pursue online dating. Some 66% of internet users agree with the statement that online dating is dangerous because it puts personal information online. And 57% of internet users agree with the statement that a lot of people who use online dating sites lie about their marital status.

These are some of the main findings in a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project entitled, “Online Dating.”

The survey found that those who describe themselves as single and looking for a partner comprise about 7% of the online adult population. Among this cohort of about 10 million internet-using adults, 74% have done at least one dating-related activity online—ranging from using dating websites, to searching for information about prospective dates, to flirting via email and instant messaging, to browsing for information about the local singles scene.

“Those who are looking for dates have learned to use the internet both as a roadmap for the offline world and as a destination to meet people,” said Mary Madden, Research Specialist at the Pew Internet Project and co-author of the report.

Some 11% of internet users, about 16 million people, say they have gone to dating websites and a majority of them say they have had positive experiences and believe their use of such sites helps them to find a better match. A notable number of these online daters have found firsthand that lasting romance can be forged online; 17% of them, or roughly 3 million people, say they have entered long-term relationships or married someone they met through the services.

Another distinguishing feature of the dating scene in the digital age is the newfound ability for singles to “Google” each other or search online for information relating to a potential date before they meet or even agree to meet. Of those internet users who are single and looking for romantic partners, 17% have searched for information about someone they were currently dating or were about to meet for a first date.

“Whether you meet someone offline or online, email and other forms of online communication now play host to some of the most crucial interactions in the early stages of a relationship,” said Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist and co-author of the report. Indeed, a substantial segment of single and looking internet users, 40%, say they flirt online, and 28% have used the internet or email to ask someone out on a date.

However, many who use the websites don’t take that extra step to follow through with an in-person meeting. Just 43% of the online daters in our sample, about 7 million, said they had gone on a date with someone they met through the sites.

These findings are based on a national survey of 3,215 adults conducted last fall by the Pew Internet & American Life Project looking at the place of online dating in the larger picture of romance on the internet and relationships in America. The margin of error for responses based on all adults is ± 2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.