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How Dating Apps Are Making Marriages Stronger

Summary:
This Valentine’s day, let me give a cheery note about the positive effect of technological progress on relationship quality. Quoting Peggy Drexler’s August 29, 2019 Wall Street Journal article “Dating Apps Are Making Marriages Stronger”: … there is now evidence that online dating could, in fact, be improving the likelihood of romantic compatibility—and making marriages stronger. …According to the study, the rate of marital breakups for respondents who met their spouse online was 25% lower than for those who met offline. … They also found that more anonymous online communications produced greater self-disclosure—and stronger feelings of

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How Dating Apps Are Making Marriages Stronger

This Valentine’s day, let me give a cheery note about the positive effect of technological progress on relationship quality. Quoting Peggy Drexler’s August 29, 2019 Wall Street Journal article “Dating Apps Are Making Marriages Stronger”:

… there is now evidence that online dating could, in fact, be improving the likelihood of romantic compatibility—and making marriages stronger. …

According to the study, the rate of marital breakups for respondents who met their spouse online was 25% lower than for those who met offline. 

They also found that more anonymous online communications produced greater self-disclosure—and stronger feelings of affection—than face-to face communications, laying the foundation for more enduring relationships. A 2011 paper published in the journal Communication Research reached a similar conclusion. In a study of 85 participants conducted by researchers at Cornell University, opposite-sex participants were assigned to a face-to-face exchange, an online exchange with the addition of a webcam, or a text-only exchange. Researchers found that the text-only couples made more statements of affection than either of the other groups and were more comfortable sharing intimate information.

The causal theories about why dating apps can lead to better relationships boil down to two main forces:

  1. For some reason, online communications fosters more self-disclosure.

  2. More choices of potential partners allows people to get to a higher optimum.

Note that the second argument could be a nice counterexample to the claims about the downsides of too much choice made by Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice. (That is a fairly popular book I would like to bring down a peg. It confuses claims a benefit of having only a few choices when the benefit is really an informational benefit of having choices one is presented with curated so one knows which choices to look at first and then go on if one wants to look at more. It also has psyche battery for identifying what Barry calls a “maximizer” that seems to me more like a battery for identifying neurotic people who aren’t savvy enough to realize that information processing can be costly. See my post “Cognitive Economics.”)

I should point out that in research looking for a causal effect of dating apps on relationship quality, one should worry about the potential confound that more tech-savvy people might also on average be more savvy about making relationships work well, even after controlling for other indicators of intelligence in the data set. (And don’t forget: “Adding a Variable Measured with Error to a Regression Only Partially Controls for that Variable.”)

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Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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