October 21, 2013

Online Dating & Relationships

One in ten Americans have used an online dating site or mobile dating app; 66% of online daters have gone on a date with someone they met through online dating, and 23% have met a spouse or long-term partner through these sites.  

Public attitudes towards online dating have become more positive in recent years, but many users also report negative experiences.

Social networking sites have emerged as a venue for navigating the world of dating and relationships.

WASHINGTON (October 21, 2013)—One in ten Americans have used an online dating site or mobile dating app themselves, and many people now know someone who uses online dating or who has found a spouse or long-term partner via online dating. General public attitudes towards online dating have become much more positive in recent years, and social networking sites are now playing a prominent role when it comes to navigating and documenting romantic relationships.

These are among the results of a national survey of dating and relationships in the digital era, the first dedicated study of this subject by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project since 2005. Key findings include:

  • 11% of internet users (representing 9% of all American adults) say that they have personally used an online dating site. As recently as 2008, just 3% of American adults had used online dating sites.
  • 7% of cell phone apps users (representing 3% of all American adults) say that they have used a dating app on their cell phone.

Taken together, 11% of all American adults are “online daters”—meaning they have used a dating site or mobile dating app. Online dating is especially common among the college-educated and those in their mid-20’s through mid-40’s, and 38% of Americans who are currently single and actively looking for a partner have used online dating at one point or another.

The report also documents the experiences that these online daters have had with the process:

  • 66% of online daters have gone on a date with someone they met through an online dating site or app.
  • 40% of online daters have used a site or app for people with shared interests or backgrounds.
  • 33% of online daters have paid to use an online dating site or app.
  • 23% of online daters have entered into a marriage or long-term relationship with someone they met through a dating site or app.
  • 22% of online daters have asked someone to help them create or review their profile.
  • 4% of online daters have attended a group outing or other event organized by an online dating site.

Although one in ten Americans has used online dating themselves, many more know a friend or family member who uses it—and this “second hand” exposure has increased dramatically in recent years:

  • 42% of Americans know someone who has used online dating, up from 31% in 2005.
  • 29% of Americans now know someone who met a spouse or other long-term partner through online dating, up from 15% in 2005.

Online dating is not universally seen by the public as a beneficial activity—indeed, a significant minority of Americans views online dating skeptically. However, public attitudes towards online dating have grown notably more positive in recent years:

  • 59% of all internet users agree with the statement that “online dating is a good way to meet people,” a 15-point increase from the 44% who said so in 2005.
  • 53% of internet users agree with the statement that “online dating allows people to find a better match for themselves because they can get to know a lot more people,” a 6-point increase from the 47% who said so in 2005.
  • 21% of internet users agree with the statement that “people who use online dating sites are desperate,” an 8-point decline from the 29% who said so in 2005.

Online daters themselves give the process good marks: 79% of online daters agree that online dating is a good way to meet people, and 70% of them agree that it helps people find a better romantic match because they have access to a wide range of potential partners. At the same time, many users have had negative experiences with online dating:

  • 54% of online daters have felt that someone else seriously misrepresented themselves in their profile.
  • 28% of online daters have been contacted by someone through an online dating site or app in a way that made them feel harassed or uncomfortable. Women are twice as likely as men to report this type of unwanted contact (42% vs. 17%).

“When we conducted our first study of dating and relationships in the digital era just under a decade ago, the public had little exposure to online dating, and most viewed people who went online to meet potential romantic partners with a healthy dose of skepticism,” said Aaron Smith, a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and main author of the report. “And although some of that skepticism remains, online dating has become much more culturally accepted in recent years. Americans are now much more likely to count an online dater among their friends and family, and a majority view online dating as a good way to meet potential partners—one that in some ways is superior to traditional ways of meeting people.”

In addition to measuring the changing role of online dating sites and apps, the report finds that the internet more broadly is becoming increasingly relevant to relationship formation in America. The proportion of Americans who say that they met their current partner online has doubled in the last eight years: 6% of internet users who are in a marriage, partnership, or other committed relationship met their partner online, up from 3% of internet users who said this in 2005. Looking only at those committed relationships that started within the last decade, 11% say that their spouse or partner is someone they met online.

Americans are also increasingly using online tools to flirt, or to check up on people they used to date or are thinking of dating:

  • 29% of internet users with recent dating experience have gone online to search for information about someone they were currently dating or about to meet for a first date. That is more than double the 13% of such internet users who did so when we last asked about this behavior in 2005.
  • 24% of all internet users have searched for information online about someone they dated in the past, up from 11% in 2005.
  • 24% of all internet users have flirted with someone online, up from 15% in 2005.

Social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook or Twitter are also frequently intertwined with the way Americans today experience their past—and present—romantic relationships:

  • 31% of all SNS users have gone on these sites to check up on someone they used to date or be in a relationship with.
  • 17% of SNS users have posted pictures or other details from a date on a social networking site.

These sites are also being used as a source of background research on potential romantic partners:

  • 30% of SNS users with recent dating experience have used a social networking site to get more information about someone they were interested in dating.
  • 15% of SNS users with recent dating experience have asked someone out on a date using a social networking site.
  • 12% of SNS users with recent dating experience have friended or followed someone on a social networking site specifically because one of their friends suggested they might want to date that person.

But as more and more Americans use social networking sites, these spaces can become the site of potential tension or awkwardness around relationships and dating:

  • 27% of social networking site users have unfriended or blocked someone who was flirting in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
  • 22% of social networking site users have unfriended or blocked someone that they were once in a relationship with.
  • 17% of social networking site users have untagged or deleted photos on these sites of themselves and someone they used to be in a relationship with.

“Americans now document much of their personal and social lives on social networking sites such as Facebook, and dating and relationships are no exception,” said Smith. “This is especially true for younger adults, many of whom are now living out their dating lives—from finding and meeting potential partners to managing the fallout from relationships that have ended—publicly and in real time online.”

The complete findings of the study are detailed in a new report called, “Online Dating and Relationships”. The data are based on a nationally representative phone survey of 2,252 American adults, conducted between April 17 and May 19, 2013. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and on landline and cell phones. The margin of error for the full sample is ± 2.3 percentage points. 

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet Life Project

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan source of data and analysis. It does not take advocacy positions. Its Internet & American Life project produces reports that analyze the social impact of the internet – on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the Internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the Internet and how their activities affect their lives.

Media contacts

Aaron Smith: asmith@pewresearch.org and 202-419-4516