Does Online Dating Increase Racial Intermarriages?


Today about a third of all new marriages are between couples who met online. Online dating has an interesting property–you are likely to be matched with a total stranger. Other matching methods, like meeting through friends, at church or even in a local bar are more likely to match people who are already tied in a network. Thus, the rise of online dating is likely to significantly change how people connect and are connected to one another in networks. Ortega and Hergovich consider a simple model:

We consider a Gale-Shapley marriage problem, in which agents may belong to different races or communities. All agents from all races are randomly located on the same unit square. Agents want to marry the person who is closest to them, but they can only marry people who they know, i.e. to whom they are connected. As in real life, agents are highly connected with agents of their own race, but only poorly so with people from other races.

Using theory and random simulations they find that online dating rapidly increases interracial marriage. The result happens not simply because a person of one race might be matched online to a person of another race but also because once this first match occurs the friends of each of the matched couples are now more likely to meet and marry one another through traditional methods. The strength of weak ties is such that it doesn’t take too many weak ties to better connect formerly disparate networks.

Interracial marriage, defined to include those between between White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian or multiracial persons, has been increasing since at least the 1960s but using the graph at right the authors argue that the rate of growth increased with the introduction and popularization of online dating. Note the big increase in interracial marriage shortly after the introduction of Tinder in 2009!

Since online dating increases the number of potential marriage partners it leads to marriages which are on average “closer” in preference space to those in a model without online dating. Thus, the model predicts that online dating should reduce the divorce rate and there is some evidence for this hypothesis:

Cacioppo et al. (2013) find that marriages created online were less likely to break up and reveal a higher marital satisfaction, using a sample of 19,131 Americans who married between 2005 and 2012. They write: “Meeting a spouse on-line is on average associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction and lower rates of marital break-up than meeting a spouse through traditional (off-line) venues”