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The robots are taking over matchmaking, while family and friends are falling behind

Sorry, Mom, I’d rather use the app. That’s what a lot of Americans are saying nowadays, according to new resarch.Adobe Stock

— Hey, there’s no need to fix me up with that wonderful co-worker you’re always talking about. I’ll use the app instead.

— Sorry, Mom and Dad. I’d rather use the app than go out with your friends’ daughter (or son).

More and more Americans are likely saying things like that, according to new research from Stanford University, which found that meeting online has become the most popular way heterosexual couples get together in the United States, surpassing introductions through friends and family members.

“We find that Internet meeting is displacing the roles that family and friends once played in bringing couples together,” according to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Traditional ways of meeting partners (through family, in church, in the neighborhood) have all been declining since World War II,” the study said. Meeting through friends, which was the leading way people met in 1995, has also been declining.


“The rise of the Internet has allowed individuals in the dating market to disintermediate their friends, i.e. to meet romantic partners without the personal intermediation of their friends and family,” the study said.

Researchers examined responses about when people had met their partners and how they had met, in two random nationally representative surveys, in 2009 and 2017. A total of 5,421 people were surveyed.

The survey found that online introductions skyrocketed from 2 percent in 1995 to 39 percent in 2017, while introductions through friends dropped from 33 percent to 20 percent, and introductions through family dropped from 15 percent to 7 percent.

The percentage of people meeting in other old-fashioned ways also dropped, including meeting in school or college and in bars and restaurants.

The rapid adoption of smartphones has accelerated the adoption of online dating and, as more and more people have met through online dating, the stigma has waned and the pool of potential prospects has grown, researchers said.

The researchers noted that the dating apps are replacing trusted people who could vet and vouch for a potential dating partner, but they said they’ve found the outcomes are the same.


Michael J. Rosenfeld, chairman of sociology at Stanford and the lead author of the study, said, “Once couples are in a relationship, it doesn’t matter how they met. . . . There isn’t a relationship between the way couples meet and how relationships progress.”

“Just as relationships formed in a bar were no less valid or successful than relationships formed in the church, so, too, relationships formed online take every shape and size and every commitment level,” he said.

People may have been steered to each other by a computer, but “I don’t think it has any consequences for the kinds of relationships we’re in,” he said.

One advantage the dating apps offer is better information on potential matches and a broader pool of prospects than you could get through family or friends, he said.

“Compared to your mom, who you’re probably safe to assume has your best interests at heart, there’s no reason to expect that the corporations behind these dating websites have the same interest in your happiness. . . . But they do have the resources to help you meet other people that only the Internet can provide,” he said.

If someone is searching for a particular kind of potential partner, say, a mountain-climbing vegan who is a lapsed Catholic, “it’s a lot easier to find that person online than walking down a street,” he said.

“Disintermediation, i.e. the removal or subordination of the human intermediary between two parties, is a fundamental social outcome of the Internet,” the study said, analogizing matchmaking family and friends to human travel agents who have been replaced by online travel booking sites.


“Despite the disintermediation of friends and family from the matchmaker role, friends and family of course have many other important functions,” the study noted.

Rosenfeld said the study is “not a knock on moms or best friends,” but “for this role, it turns out they have some structural disadvantages the Internet services can improve on.”

Meeting online has surpassed other waysCourtesy of the researchers