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Dating in the digital age: What influence does it have on relationships?

Online dating promotes relationships between people of different education levels and those of different immigrant status, a new survey shows.
When partners differ in education, the woman rather than the man tends to be more educated, states the UBC study.

The results of a first-of-its-kind study on online dating in Canada are being revealed in time for Valentine's Day. 

Yue Qian, the study’s lead author and associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, says everyone is curious about how couples meet.

“Unpartnered people are often interested in how they can find a partner,” says Qian. 

Data was collected from 1,700 adults in Canada during a national phone survey in 2018. People were asked about their relationship status and how they met their current partner or most recent partner. 

The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, then compared data between Canadian couples who met online and those who met offline through work, school, church or family and friends. 

Online dating promotes relationships between people from different education levels, according to the study, plus relationships between people with different immigrant statuses. 

“Online dating opens up a world of diverse partners for us, and this research shows how segregated our social networks can be,” says Qian.

Just below half of the relationships studied include partners who are similarly educated or similarly aged. The results showed when dating online, people are more likely to be close in age and there is a decrease in the likelihood that people would be partnered with someone of a different age.

“When partners differ in education, the woman rather than the man tends to be more educated,” states the study. 

Compared to offline dating, online dating results in a higher probability of an immigrant to Canada pairing with a Canadian-born partner. The study found online dating is more likely to pair an immigrant man with a Canadian-born woman.

Qian explains how the study highlights the potential of dating technologies for blurring immigration-based social boundaries. 

Couples introduced through family and friends were more likely to be of the same race than partners who met online, the results showed. The study found that online dating does not promote interracial dating.

The results suggest that racial segregation does exist in our social networks and it plays a role in "brokering" intimate relationships between individuals of the same race. 

“The overarching point is that, if you decide to use online dating options, keep an open mind and embrace the diverse pool,” says Qian. 

According to UBC, the results found in the study are broadly consistent with findings in other Western countries.