Thursday , October 18 2018
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Online dating could make society less segregated

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently banned an ad from online dating site eHarmony which assured those looking for love that it was a “scientifically proven” matching system.

The company matches users according to their personality, using their own data on existing relationships. According to the ASA, however, eHarmony failed to demonstrate that its matching system was scientifically proven to give users a better chance of finding a partner.

But what does science really have to say about online dating, and about marriages that begin online?

Facts, not fiction

First, we need to understand that online dating has had a huge impact on modern societies. Nearly one-third of modern marriages in the US now begin online, and up to 70% of homosexual relationships. For better or for worse, online dating has changed who we end up marrying.

Before online dating, people tended to marry people who were already (at least loosely) in their social circle – someone who attended the same school or college, someone who lived in their own neighborhood, or someone who prayed at the same church, temple or mosque.

But because people often live, study, and pray with people like them, they were more likely to marry someone who shared their characteristics and, in particular, race.

This was particularly the case because many societies remain highly segregated: the average American public school student has less than one interracial friend, and around 90% of people who attend religious services do so only with others of their own race.

But after 1995, with the rise of online dating, people were increasingly more able to date anyone, and had a higher chance of matching with someone from another race or ethnicity.

Jointly with Philipp Hergovich from the University of Vienna, I have shown with a formal mathematical model how those extra connections can quickly reduce the racial segregation of a society. The article has quickly attracted media attention around the world.