Couples Who Meet Online Have Better Marriages

(Photo: Don Hankins)

A new study by the University of Chicago’s John Cacioppo finds that couples who met online went on to have more fulfilling marriages than those who met offline. They also divorced at a lower percentage:

“These data suggest that the Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriage itself,” said the study’s lead author, John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

The results were published in the paper, “Marital Satisfaction and Breakups Differ Across Online and Offline Meeting Venues,” in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meeting online has become an increasingly common way to find a partner, with opportunities arising through social networks, exchanges of email, instant messages, multi-player games and virtual worlds, in which people “live” on the site through avatars. The research shows that couples who met online were more likely to have higher marital satisfaction and lower rates of marital breakups than relationships that began in face-to-face meetings.

Marriage breakups were reported in about 6 percent of the people who met online, compared with 7.6 percent of the people who met offline. Marriages for people who met online reported a mean score of 5.64 on a satisfaction survey, compared with a score of 5.48 for people who met offline. The survey was based on questions about their happiness with their marriage and degree of affection, communication and love for each other.

For the study, Cacioppo led a team that examined the results of a representative sample of 19,131 people who responded to a survey by Harris Interactive about their marriages and satisfaction.

Chad Clayton

Reading this reminds me of the adverse selection problem. One party in an agreement has access to information that the other party does not. Uninformed parties have to make the best guess based on the information they have access to. Online dating would theoretically introduce some degree of transparency and allow both parties to screen for certain factors first, getting rid of the adverse selection problem.


yes, you at least get a heads-up and some screening...back in the 70's before the internet, I signed up with an old-fashioned dating service. After filling out a long questionnaire they would send each party a slip of paper with names and phone numbers. I must have gotten over a hundred of those slips of paper! Finally met the man I would eventually marry (over 20 years now), a bargain for $200! If there had been online dating back then, I would do the same thing.


There are a lot of other factors that could have weighted the data here and other factors that could have made a huge difference.

I'm disappointed with they way you've just repeated the report here without delving deeper. Freakonomics was about not looking at the obvious and traditional interpretations but going beyond that.

It may well be that people who meet via online dating are happier, but this study doesn't give enough evidence to affirm that.


There's a link to the study within the article. Forgive me if this seems pretentious, but do you need them to do all of the thinking for you?


I think it might possibly be because the hurdle between meeting online to getting married is greater than offline, also alternatives are more abundant, which could result in less impulse marriages.


Speaking only for myself (my wife and I met online int he early 90s, long before it was cool), I suspect that one big factor is that when you meet someone in person, the first thing that you notice is their physical appearance, but when you meet someone online, the first thing that you notice is their thoughts and personality. Being attracted to someone's brain makes for a better and longer-lasting relationship than being attracted to their appearance.

One statistic which I've always found interesting is that arranged marriages (in cultures where that is common) tend to do just about as well on the usual metrics as non-arranged marriages. There may of course be cultural factors at play (cultures with arranged marriages may also have disincentives to divorce). However, it suggests to me that initial physical attraction (which is how people traditionally find a partner) may be no better a predictor of marriage success than chance.



I'd be curious how and if they controlled for variables on this. I'm sure the demographics of the group that doesn't date online are quite different than the group that does.

Joe J

It sounds to me that they are taking married couples and asking if you met this person on line or not. Which is an entirely different thing than have you ever done on line dating.

It's because they're desperate

You mean people actively, desperately seeking something they think is the be-all end-all insist they're satisfied once they think they've found it?

Color me shocked.


Sounds like you haven't had much luck online. I think it's fantastic that people are finding new ways to connect and find lasting love. Love is the end-all-be-all!


or maybe people that date online are less picky and are more content with what they.

Read Carefully

Just to point this out, since some people seem to be confused-- this article isn't referring to people who are on dating sites. It lists several different media outlets and I think a lot of people would be lying if they said they hadn't had some form of communication with a "random" on, say Facebook for example.


This makes a lot of sense to me. The internet is helping like-minded people find one another more easily. I met my husband on the internet (on Craigslist of all things!) and he is the only man I have ever met whose life philosophies work so well with mine. I dated lots of schoolmates and co-workers and friends of friends, but nobody like this guy. If we had never met, and I ended up married to someone in my small social circle, there would be no way that I would be as happy.

candy clouston

Given that marriages can last 50 or more years, it's a little too soon to be drawing this conclusion. Nothing like extrapolating beyond the data. I expect more incisive analysis from Freakonomics.


The median length of marriage is something like 7-8 years (the famed seven year itch). It's not too early to see if that's changed.


I would add the issue of sunk costs. Taking time to meet physically, whether through bar hopping or an arranged date, is a significant investment. One may continue to further stages of a relationship, even when the partner is turning out less than optimal. Resulting pairings may be of lower compatibility than those where they kept looking. Sunk costs are mostly lower for online encounters.
Related hypothesis related to sense of social obligation to continue the relationship (at least a step further) when there has been a face-to-face contact. At work, I gravitate to meeting people in-person when they may be saying no to my request (of importance to me). I assume similar tendencies for marriage path relationships.


The conclusion is weird to me. I have a gut feeling something is missing from the analysis. Are people who tend to use online dating simply more interested in getting and staying married than those who do not? Are those who are using dating sites, which then lead to successful marriages, less likely to meet potential partners "in person" due to physical or personality issues and are therefore more likely to stick with a partner they met oline, because there is simply no "greener pastures" available to them. I have a sense that those who are gravitating toward meeting online may from the start, be more likley to stay married for some unaccounted for reason. I would also say that there is a possibility that those who do not use online dating simply may have more choices and abilities to meet partners in person and have a higher chance of infidelity. Are more successful marriages that started online simply self selecting to begin with?



You may have something there with the self-selecting. I 'dated' hordes of men from age 15 up to age 30. In 15 years, Mr. Right simply did not cross my path. All my friends were getting married, buying houses, having children, and not one of them ever so much as set up a blind date for me - they disappeared into suburbia. I wasn't itching to get married, but I wanted someone special. I met a few 'maybes', a whole lot of 'run screaming from the room' types, and a vast swathe of 'neither here nor there' types. I could have settled, but I had high-ish standards, I simply was not meeting men I could even have an intelligent conversation with - much less attractive men. There were no greener pastures, just empty fields as far as the eye could see, as I plodded around my little paddock. Online dating narrowed the field considerably. Nice, ordinary guys who spend the weekend washing their cars, eating pizza and wings at the sports bar, and watch football and drink beer have NO problem attracting women and getting married. I wanted more than nice and ordinary.


two cents

Didn't see them factor in ppl who were already married and then went online to meet someone..and left their spouse. Just another factor to consider.