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.

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  1. candy clouston says:

    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.

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    • Pseudonym says:

      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.

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  2. Tomi says:

    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.

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  3. momosgarage says:

    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?

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    • LuLu says:

      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.

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  4. two cents says:

    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.

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  5. Voice of Reason says:

    I think that in general it’s just hard to meet people in “real life.” People are busy, people are on the move, and people just don’t take the time to introduce themselves in person. Ergo, you’re cutting yourself off to most of the possible partners at there by not exploring online interactions.

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  6. Maureen Geiger says:

    Love your podcast- always an entertaining eye-opener.

    However, I could not believe how tightly you had your eyes shut on the Game Theorist podcast. It was amazing to hear that Game Theory was alluded to as not very useful in general practice. Not only is it completely “common sense” that (by default) women must use Game Theorist Strategies in all aspects of life to be successful (as touched on)- any corporate office culture is ripe with game theorist’s playing to win corner offices. In all aspects of my working life- from McDonald’s – to Corporate – to owning my own tiny business- playing the “reaction game” has been a necessary skill. I cant imagine many people achieving success without it.

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  7. Julie says:

    I can’t speak to the science behind this study, but I do know that after 10+ years of traditional dating, online was what worked for me. We got to know each other before meeting, hammer out our differences in neutral territory, and get a feel for each other’s humor before meeting in person. Is it fool proof for all? Of course not. I met plenty of duds online too. But after 3 years together, 2 years of marriage, and a baby on he way, I’m quite satisfied with how my husband and I met! It’s worth a try– IMO people justneed to be healthy and real and honest when they try to still into relationships, no matter where they meet.

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