Online Dating Game Goes Mainstream

Study finds 30 percent looking up exes online and 25 percent seeking hookups.

The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project published a study that shows online dating has become more mainstream than in 2005.

The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project published a study that shows online dating has become more mainstream than in 2005.

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Online dating is increasingly popular, bolstered by the advent of social networks like Facebook, with approximately 11 percent of American adults having sought romance through a dating website or mobile app, a new study shows.

The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project published a study on Monday that shows online dating has become more mainstream than the last time the think tank studied online dating in 2005, a year in which MySpace and Facebook started becoming a part of daily Internet life.

 

The full study is available online.

Use of dating sites has grown but also the willingness to follow up and go on dates, as 66 percent of people who use dating sites went out with someone from the network, up from 43 percent of online daters surveyed in 2005. Social proof of marriages resulting from Internet dating boosted that popularity, as 23 percent of survey respondents who are married or in a long-term relationship said they met their partner through a dating website, explains Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at Pew who co-authored the study.

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"It's becoming more of a part of our culture as people realize that online dating is not something that people do because they are too lame to find somebody else. We all know more people who are doing it," Smith says.

Looking for love online is more common but dating websites still have a stigma against them. Twenty one percent of Internet users agreed with the survey question that "people who use online dating sites are desperate," although that sentiment decreased compared with 29 percent of people who said that in 2005. Harassment online is one of the main criticisms against dating sites, as 42 percent of women and 17 percent of men told Pew they had experienced "uncomfortable or bothersome contact" on dating websites.

"That discomfort factor women face online may play into the fact that men are three times more likely to initiate first contact messages, which we had noticed from a different study by the American Economics Review," Smith says. "Other than that we did not find much of a difference in the online dating experiences of men and women. The only other significant difference between men and women we noticed is that women were twice as likely to have someone help them look over their online dating profile and ask for tips."

Social networks help connect people with lasting relationships, but 32 percent of Internet users also agreed with the Pew survey question that online dating keeps people from settling down because the sites offer endless options of new people to date.

The rise of social networking also gives people more private venues to be playful, as 24 percent of today's Internet users have flirted with someone online, compared with only 15 percent of Internet users surveyed in 2005, the Pew study shows. This is one reason Smith says he wanted to ask about the growing popularity of websites designed specifically for casual encounters.

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"We really wanted to get more information about the hookup site phenomenon, but we could not find a good way to ask about it on the telephone survey," Smith says.

Examples of social networks designed for hookups range from Ashley Madison, a website designed for married people seeking discreet affairs, to Tinder, a mobile app that uses existing data from Facebook to locate people nearby and view a simple profile of them, essentially making it a virtual "hot or not" app.

"Those types of sites did not rise to the surface in our research, perhaps because they are new and not many are on them yet, or perhaps because people don't want to admit to using them," Smith says.

While hookup sites are becoming more common, 46 percent of online daters told Pew "finding someone for a long-term relationship or marriage" was a major reason they used dating sites, while 25 percent said a major reason they used online dating was "meeting people who just want to have fun without being in a serious relationship."