Couples meeting through online dating 'may become norm'

Nearly one in three Internet users have visited online dating sites claims a survey by Oxford University.

An international poll of 24,000 men and women found that just 6 per cent had gone to dating Websites in 1997, but by 2009, 30 per cent of the sample had tried them with 15 per cent finding their current partner that way.

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) conducted an online questionnaire with 12,000 couples from 18 countries, all of whom had regular access to the Internet. They were asked a series of questions about whether they had visited dating websites, other online services, and where else they might go looking for a partner. The questions related to the period 1997 to 2009.

Middle-aged men and women (aged 40-69) looking to start new relationships after 1996 were the most likely to use online dating sites, with 36 per cent of them revealing that they had found their current partner online. The study ‘dispels the myth that social networking and online dating is primarily for the young’, it claims, with just 23 per cent of 18-40 year-olds saying they had started a relationship through the Internet.

The study indicates to what extent chat rooms and social network sites have played a role in introducing people to partners. For people who began their relationship before 2000, less than 10 per cent said they had met on a social networking site; but by 2005 that had doubled to 21 per cent, while the popularity of chat rooms declined over the same period.

“Finding partners online was once regarded as a bit of a novelty, but this survey suggests it has become a common if not dominant way of meeting new partners, particularly if you are between 40 and 70 years old,” says the study’s co-author Dr Bernie Hogan, Research Fellow at the OII. “Our questionnaire also reveals that people who know others who date online are more likely to try it and approve of it.”

The paper is based on the ‘Me, My Spouse and the Internet’ project at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, supported by a grant from online dating service eHarmony.

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