Online Dating Use Has Nearly Tripled in the US in Less Than a Decade

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The way we meet our romantic partners has evolved several times throughout history, with online dating being the latest frontier. However, it’s interesting to note that, despite its increasing popularity, most people today still have never tried it before, which points to a lot of room for future growth. Here are a few numbers for your consideration:

· In 2013, just 11% of adults in the United States said they had ever even tried online dating before, and just 3% had formed a long-term relationship with someone they met online.

· By early 2020, the number of U.S. adults who had ever dated online grew to 30%, while the number who entered a LTR with an online partner surged to 12%. 

Put another way, in less than a decade, the number of online daters in America has nearly tripled, while the number who have forged a deep connection with an online partner has quadrupled. That’s a massive increase in a relatively short period of time. However, it’s striking to note that the vast majority of Americans—70%—say they’ve still never gone online to find love. 

That said, certain subgroups of the population have taken up online dating at much higher rates. For example, among those who identify as LGBTQ+, a majority (55%) say they’ve tried online dating, compared to just 28% of those who identify as heterosexual. 

Likewise, nearly half of young adults age 18-29 (48%) have tried online dating, compared to 38% of 30-49 year-olds, 19% of 50-64 year-olds, and 13% of those age 65 and over. Also, those who have attended college are substantially more likely to have dated online relative to those with a high-school education (35% vs. 22%). 

These figures, which come from a nationally representative survey of nearly 5,000 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center, may underrepresent the current scope and scale of online dating in the US, though.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, dating app downloads increased significantly, according to a number of media reports. It’s not clear exactly how many of those downloads represented brand new users vs. former users who had previously deleted or disabled their accounts. However, it’s likely that many of them were first-time users.

I say this because, in our Kinsey Institute study of Sex and Relationships in the Time of COVID-19, we found that many people reported trying new and different things in their sexual and romantic lives in response to the pandemic—and, for a lot of them, this involved trying new behaviors online. We saw a rise in sexting, cybersex, and phone sex, as well as some people reporting their very first in-person hookup through a dating app. 

In short, many people have turned to technology recently to meet their sexual and emotional needs during the pandemic, which suggests that online dating use has probably reached a new high. What will be interesting to see going forward is precisely how much of a bounce there has been in the overall percentage of Americans who have tried online dating—and how this will impact their dating behaviors going forward once life eventually returns to a semi-normal state (and fingers crossed that it will!). 

Will the people who went online during the pandemic stay online because they had positive experiences and discovered it to be a viable way to connect with others? Or will they resume other ways of meeting once other opportunities are available? These are the big questions I often get asked by journalists and, unfortunately, we won’t know the answers for sure for quite some time. However, in our Kinsey Institute study, many of our participants do expect that at least some of the shifts that have occurred in their behavior will be permanent.

With all of that said, I think it’s likely that we’ll one day look back on COVID-19 and see this as a key historical factor that further accelerated the growing trend toward online dating. 

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for more from the blog or here to listen to the podcast. Follow Sex and Psychology on Facebook, Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.

Image Source: 123RF/adiruch

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