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How technology is changing relationships

And why that's not necessarily a bad thing

Technology and love have always been portrayed as a poor match. Online dating horror stories are constantly in the media. Rude Tinder messages are turned into memes and shared on social media daily. Shows like Black Mirror tap into people's inherent fear of technology, depicting future generations as constantly glued to their communication devices, disconnected from people and the real world around them. It seems like the future of romance is doomed.

But is that really the case? A recent article from the MIT Technology Review has highlighted research indicating technology's involvement in matchmaking may actually be a positive thing.

Josue Ortega of the University of Essex in the U.K. and Philipp Hergovich of the University of Vienna in Austria, state that their research indicates married couples who meet online have lower rates of divorce or break ups than those who meet offline in more traditional circumstances. To gain this data the team measured the average distance between partners before and after their introduction on an online dating platform. "Marriages created in a society with online dating tend to be stronger,” they said.

And while the research primarily followed American couples, marriage and divorce data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that divorce rates have significantly declined since 1996, when major online dating services began servicing the market. The divorce rate (divorces per 1,000 people above the age of 16, the legal age of marriage in Australia) has dropped from 2.9 in 1996 to only 1.9 in 2016.

In fact, more than one-third of marriages and more than 20% of current committed relationships begin online. Online dating is now the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet, with introductions by friends still leading the way.

Ortega and Hergovich's research has also linked the introduction of online dating services with an increase in interracial marriage. By studying the nature of social networks and how they have evolved, they found that online dating platforms allowed people to date outside of their usual networks. “People who meet online tend to be complete strangers,” they said.

Indeed, a critical analysis of online dating by the Association for Psychological Science also found that the access online dating provided was superior to traditional romance, stating that "online dating sites offer a broad range of access that users would otherwise lack, offering access in extremely convenient and flexible formats."

It is this access to new social networks that has made it easier for people to date others from different backgrounds and circumstances. “During the 2000s decade, the percentage of new marriages that are interracial changed from 10.68 percent to 15.54 percent, a huge increase of nearly 5 percentage points, or 50 percent,” the researchers write.

"It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” say Ortega and Hergovich. “Understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is an important problem, for intermarriage is widely considered a measure of social distance in our societies.”

As interracial marriage increases, so too has the acceptance of such unions. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center on interracial marriages shows that public views on mixed couples have been trending positive. 39% of adults stated that mixed race couples were good for society, up from 24% in 2010. Also those with negative views on mixed race marriages dropped from 13% to just 9% in the same period.

Despite all of these positives, online dating still maintains a negative stereotype. A short survey by the team at PIK, an activity based dating app, still found that many couples that began through an online dating service still hide that fact from friends and family, mostly out of embarrassment.

In Japan, where the PIK app initially launched, attitudes towards dating apps are still quite negative compared to the west. The biggest concerns Japanese users have are mainly tied to privacy and a lack of regulation leading to an over-abundance of scam dating services run by criminal organisations. "It's countries like Japan that need better online dating services," says Andre Casaclang, the co-founder of the PIK app, "especially as they are suffering from a population decline. The number of people single in their 20's and 30's in Japan is now higher than ever before, and it's online services that can help reverse this trend."

One day it may be more socially acceptable to tell friends that you met your significant other on services like PIK, Tinder or Match, as opposed to telling a white lie about how you met. Until then, online dating will keep changing relationships in more positive ways than we as a society may realise.

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