More people meet online than through friends or family or work

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Millions of Americans never have to leave the house to find love (or sex).

About four in 10 heterosexual couples (39%) and six in 10 same-sex couples (65%) who got together in 2017 met online, according to a new working paper from researchers at Stanford University and the University of New Mexico. Meanwhile, heterosexual couples’ conventional methods of connecting with a partner — via family, neighborhood and church, for example — have fallen in popularity over nearly eight decades, the study found.

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The research, drawing upon the nationally representative How Couples Meet and Stay Together dataset, found that connecting online had outstripped meeting through friends among heterosexual couples in 2013. Meeting on the information superhighway, the authors added, is “displacing” friends’ and family members’ once-prominent matchmaking roles.

Here’s what else the study found:

• Between 1995 and 2017, the share of heterosexual couples meeting online rose from 2% to 39%.

• Meeting through friends decreased from 33% to 20%, meeting through family fell from 15% to 7%, and meeting through a colleague decreased from 19% to 11%.

• While the share of those meeting at a bar or restaurant seemed to increase after 2010, that upswing was due to people meeting for drinks or food after meeting online.

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“Individuals used to need personal intermediaries, usually friends or family members, to introduce them to new people,” wrote co-authors Michael Rosenfeld, Reuben Thomas and Sonia Hausen. With the carousel of (mostly) friendly faces on dating sites like OKCupid, Tinder IAC, -0.22%  and others, there’s no need to rely on Sunday services or family events or friends of friends to meet that special someone.

Same-sex couples were “early adopters” of internet dating services, the study added. But the share of heterosexual couples meeting online has ticked up since 2009, as the share of those meeting through friends has dwindled. Stigma around meeting online has subsided, the authors added, and dating sites have gained an edge as their pool of users has grown.

Online dating has, indeed, gained increasing mainstream acceptance in recent years: 55% of people who had tried a dating app held a “very” or “somewhat” positive opinion of dating sites and apps, according to a recent Axios/SurveyMonkey poll of more than 4,000 U.S. adults, and 62% said they thought relationships that begin online are “just as successful” as ones that begin face-to-face.

The global online dating market is expected to reach $12 billion next year, according to an estimate last fall by Nomura Instinet analyst Mark Kelley.

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