Online Matchmaking

May/June 2010

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Online Matchmaking

Gwenda Kaczor

Oh, that computerized web we weave. Who knew it would get so intriguingly romantic?

Research by Michael Rosenfeld, associate professor of sociology, indicates that some segments of Americans—notably, gays and lesbians—find partners with surprising frequency through a variety of online meeting opportunities. A survey of 3,000 adults found that among all couples who met in a period from 2007 to 2009, 61 percent of the same-sex pairs met online, compared to 23.4 percent of heterosexual couples.

"It's one more indication of how influential Internet technologies are in people's lives," notes Rosenfeld.

Finding partners online, says Rosenfeld, can involve a more spontaneous and sometimes happenstance process than simply using dating-oriented websites. Romantic connections can begin, for example, with chat forums attached to professional, hobby or entertainment sites. A bridge or poker fan at a games site may find a relationship through back-and-forth messaging with another player.

"It's community-making activity, but there's also something a little inadvertent about it," Rosenfeld observes.

Among heterosexuals who met their partners within the last 10 years, those most likely to have found each other online were 35 to 44 years old (just under 23 percent of those surveyed). Younger people, suggests Rosenfeld, may find it easy to become couples in school settings, whereas middle-aged people interact mostly in workplace or neighborhood settings.

Rosenfeld's ongoing research—which will track the durability of the relationships forged online—also offers data on how traditional ways of meeting partners through friends and family may be changing and why.

Gay and lesbian couples, for instance, appear far less likely to meet through family than married heterosexuals.

Knowledge Networks collected the survey data; funding was provided through a grant from the National Science Foundation, as well Stanford's Institute for Research in Social Sciences and the University's UPS Endowment.

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