A new wave of dating websites, such as OKCupid, emerged in the early s. And the arrival of Tinder changed dating even further. Today, more than one-third of marriages start online. Clearly, these sites have had a huge impact on dating behavior. But now the first evidence is emerging that their effect is much more profound. The way people meet their partners has changed dramatically in recent years For more than 50 years, researchers have studied the nature of the networks that link people to each other.
These social networks turn out to have a peculiar property. One obvious type of network links each node with its nearest neighbors, in a pattern like a chess board or chicken wire. Another obvious kind of network links nodes at random. But real social networks are not like either of these.
Instead, people are strongly connected to a relatively small group of neighbors and loosely connected to much more distant people. These loose connections turn out to be extremely important.
Loose ties have traditionally played a key role in meeting partners. While most people were unlikely to date one of their best friends, they were highly likely to date people who were linked with their group of friends; a friend of a friend, for example.
Indeed, this has long been reflected in surveys of the way people meet their partners: Online dating has changed that. Today, online dating is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet.
For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular. That has significant implications. And when people meet in this way, it sets up social links that were previously nonexistent. The question that Ortega and Hergovich investigate is how this changes the racial diversity of society.
The researchers start by simulating what happens when extra links are introduced into a social network. Their network consists of men and women from different races who are randomly distributed. In this model, everyone wants to marry a person of the opposite sex but can only marry someone with whom a connection exists.
This leads to a society with a relatively low level of interracial marriage. But if the researchers add random links between people from different ethnic groups, the level of interracial marriage changes dramatically.
And there is another surprising effect. The team measure the strength of marriages by measuring the average distance between partners before and after the introduction of online dating. Next, the researchers compare the results of their models to the observed rates of interracial marriage in the U. But the rate of increase changed at about the time that online dating become popular.
The increase became steeper in the s, when online dating became even more popular. Then, in , the proportion of interracial marriages jumped again. Tinder has some 50 million users and produces more than 12 million matches a day. But it is consistent with the hypothesis that it does.
Meanwhile, research into the strength of marriage has found some evidence that married couples who meet online have lower rates of marital breakup than those who meet traditionally. That has the potential to significantly benefit society. Of course, there are other factors that could contribute to the increase in interracial marriage. One is that the trend is the result of a reduction in the percentage of Americans who are white. If marriages were random, this should increase the number of interracial marriages, but not by the observed amount.
That leaves online dating as the main driver of this change. These changes are set to continue, and to benefit society as result. The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating.