In recent years people have increasingly been using the Internet to search for compatible partners—and a new study reveals that marriages that begin this way may be stronger.
In a study that was by far the largest of its type, social neuroscientist John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago and his colleagues reported in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that more than a third of 19,131 American adults who married between 2005 and 2012 met their spouse online. Using an Internet survey, they found that an online meeting was associated with a lower rate of marital breakup than offline venues (5.96 versus 7.67 percent) and a higher rate of marital satisfaction. “That breakup and marital satisfaction follow the same pattern suggests that something about meeting online is associated with better outcomes,” Cacioppo says.
The study was not designed to address what that “something” might be, but possibilities include access to more potential partners online and the fact that communicating electronically has, in other studies, led to greater self-disclosure and liking of the other person. The results cannot be explained by demographic factors such as education or employment, because the scientists controlled for those influences. They could, however, stem from personality factors such as being a better decision maker or more ready for commitment.
The research was funded by eHarmony.com, which could make the results suspect. But Cacioppo, who is a member of the company's scientific advisory board, insisted on safeguards. Two independent statisticians oversaw and verified the analysis of the data. In addition, the company agreed from the beginning that the results would be published no matter what they were. “There has been very little government funding for research about love, marriage and relationships in the past several decades,” Cacioppo points out. “It's really important for us to understand because we aren't doing it very well.” Industry, he says, may be the relationship scientist's only partner.