The Washington Post

How the Internet is boosting marriage rates

Let's file this under "not conclusive, but certainly fascinating." Real Time Economics's Brenda Cronin points to a new discussion paper (pdf) arguing that Internet access is halting the drop in marriage rates among young people.

Let's see... in this photo we have computers, some young people of both genders... yep, this works as accompanying art! (Evy Mages/For The Washington Post

Yes, the Internet. In fact, the study notes, marriage rates are between 13 percent and 30 percent higher than they'd be without the advent of broadband technology.

The basic intuition here is that stuff like online dating makes it easier for people to find potential partners — or, as University of Montreal economist Andriana Bellou puts it, the Internet "has the potential to reduce search frictions." That's not utterly implausible. Researchers have already noted that the Internet allows us to find jobs and homes more easily. Why not spouses?

To test this out, Bellou exploits the fact that broadband arrived in the United States unevenly during the 1990s and 2000s. And she compares the rates of adoption trends with Current Population Survey data on marriage rates for Americans aged 21-30.

What she found was that "marriage rates grew on average more in states with greater increases in broadband penetration." The data is awfully messy, but there does seem to be a correlation:

The problem is that this doesn't prove causation. Maybe there's something else about the states that got broadband earlier that explains why marriage rates rose faster. Maybe people inclined to marriage were moving to states with broadband access. Or something else. So Bellou tested out a wide variety of alternative hypotheses and found them lacking. "A number of tests," she concludes, "suggest that this relationship is causal."

There's also a discussion about whether the Internet is simply leading to more marriages or more long-lasting marriages. Either one is possible. Maybe online dating and searching simply allow people to divorce and remarry more easily. Or perhaps online dating allows people to find more suitable matches in the first place — making marriages more durable. Sadly, the limits of the survey data doesn't allow Bellou to conclude one way or the other here.

Either way... it's an intriguing theory. Marriage rates in the United States have plummeted in the last few decades. In 2011, just 51 percent of American adults were married, down from 72 percent in 1960. (The number who had never been married had also risen, from 15 percent to 28 percent). But it's possible that the Internet's pushing against the tide, at least on the margins.

Related: And for a more dystopian look at online dating, Rob Horning's essay in The New Inquiry is a fun read. One bit: "Dating sites do what they can to distort the pursuit of love, turn it into a process of self-nichification as pseudo-self-discovery, but they can’t entirely eliminate the volatility that comes when strangers are brought together with the intent of being strangers no longer."



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
Play Videos
Why seasonal allergies make you miserable
John Lewis, 'Marv the Barb' and the politics of barber shops
What you need to know about filming the police
Play Videos
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom
The signature drink of New Orleans
Next Story
Ezra Klein · May 2, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.