Online dating – a flat niche – has tech-savvy daters who like to watch – reported in MetaFacts TUP survey
A MetaFacts TUPdate by Dan Ness, MetaFacts Principal Analyst
Online dating has evolved for decades, having settled into a comfortable niche now spanning all ages and strata. In active use by only a fraction of unattached adults, these services continue to face challenges beyond their direct competitors. Alternatives to connect with others include social networking sites such as Facebook, in addition to more traditional in-person approaches such as clubs and churches. The likeliest near-term innovation will come from the increased use of technology, and not from broad sociological or cultural changes in online dating patterns.
As part of Technology User Profile, we asked respondents whether they are using an online dating service. One in eight (12%) of unattached online adults said they were actively dating online, numbering 9.9 million Americans. This finding is from a carefully balanced sample of 8,175 adults in the second phase of the Technology User Profile survey.
The trend is neither growth nor stagnation in the use of online dating. The current 12% rate is essentially identical to one year prior, where MetaFacts determined that 13% of unattached adults are dating online. This is based on 8,160 respondents.
The MetaFacts measure of active online daters is a smaller number than the estimates reported by many online dating sites and in publicly available industry analyst reports. There are several reasons for this difference. MetaFacts gathered this information from independent bottom-up surveys, not through top-down company guidance. This independent approach gives a uniquely solid view which is not subject to differing definitions of who is and isn’t an active online dater. Also, each adult is counted only once as an online dater, so are not counted for each of the multiple sites they may use. Furthermore, the survey questions about the use of online dating, marital status are included along with vary many other questions about the use of technology. This helps mediate the social effects for answering questions about topics such as online dating.
MetaFacts also found that online dating spans all ages. Unattached adults age 25-44 have the highest incidence of online dating, with one out of six (16%) using the sites. Among the age 45-54 group, one out of seven (14%) date online, and one out of ten (10%) age 55-64. The youngest and oldest age groups have the lowest use. At a 5% incidence, anyone age 65+ will only encounter one out of twenty similarly aged unattached adults.
We also looked into gender disparity, finding more men than women using online dating sites. There are almost twice as many men than women using online dating sites. Males make up 65% of single, separated, divorced, or widowed adults using an online dating site. This is somewhat larger than the 58% share of unattached online adult who are male.
Drilling more deeply into the Technology User Profile datasets, we looked at the gender balance within age groups. To the extent that dating takes place with similarly-aged men and women, a question arises: is there a wider disparity between men and women within certain age groups? [chart]
Unattached Males age 45-54 outnumber similarly aged women by three to one, the widest gap between all same-age groups. In the age 35-34 and age 65+ groups, the ratio of men to women is closer to parity.
We looked at the next decade over, to see how things stand between online daters who are in the age group ten years older or younger than themselves. Among older males paired with younger females, there is less of a disparity between the numbers online. For example, for each Female 25-34, there are 1.5 Males 35-44. For Females 45-54, there is actually a dearth of Males 65+, with the ratio below one to one.
When comparing the ratio of older females to younger males, we found a different story. In most cases, there are many younger males for each older female. For each Female 45-54, there are four or more Males 35-44. Similarly, for each Female 55-64, there are 4.1 Males 45-54.
Note that this research is reporting the age of current active online daters, and is not reporting that online daters are dating others who are ten years older or younger. Most online dating sites offer the capability for daters specify the age of the persons they are seeking. Some sites, such as cougarlife.com, specifically target women who choose to date younger men. Also, this specific analysis does not focus on same-sex dating. It is primarily focused on the big picture of active online daters and who they are.
Singles are significantly more drawn to online dating than those who have been in prior relationships. Unattached adults using an online dating site are mostly made up of Singles (64%) with the rest (36%) being Divorced, Separated, or Widowed. This is similar to the profile unattached adults who are not dating online, 68% of whom are Singles.
Compared to many other developed countries, Americans have median dating rates, based on the 2009 wave of Technology User Profile. Use of online dating sites is highest among German unattached online adults, at nearly one in five (19%). In France and the UK, the rate is closer to one in six, at 16% and 15%, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, online dating sites are used far less often in Italy and South Korea, being used by 6% and 7%, respectively, of unattached adults in those countries.
While cultural norms vary widely from country to country, the key takeaway from these measures is that online dating is not only an American phenomenon.
Another 3.9 million attached online adults also report they are using an online dating service, which is 4% of adults who are married or part of an unmarried couple. This confirms the many anecdotal experiences shared by online daters who have discovered that the person they met online is already involved in an attached relationship. There are also online dating sites which openly cater to facilitating outside relationships among couples, married or not. Based on MetaFacts research, the share of attached online adults using online dating sites has not changed since the prior year.
Looking ahead, innovation in online dating is likely to come from competition within the online dating industry, and less likely to result from overnight societal changes in dating behavior.
This innovation will come in the form of increased consumer use of dating-specific apps for smartphones and tablets such as the Apple iPad.
Online daters have a more tech-savvy and tech-active profile, and are already actively using social networking sites like Facebook. They also use Smartphones at a higher rate than the unattached not dating online.
Due to the sensitive nature of information shared through online dating sites, online dating apps will be subject to the already-heightened privacy concerns of online daters. A higher share of online daters than non-daters take privacy steps with their mobile phones, such as turning off location-based services (LBS), password protecting their phones, and avoiding some apps.
There’s a pent-up demand for freedom of immediate access and even expressions of rebellion among online daters. A higher share of online daters than non-daters feels they should be allowed to text or email while they are driving a car. Most states have enacted legislation to protect the public from distracted drivers, so this demand is unlikely to be met with current heads-down, thumbs-only technology.
Probably the most relevant technology behavior to watch: video calls on mobile phones. A strongly higher share of online daters are already using the new capability of advanced carrier networks and smartphones to make video calls, using products such as FaceTime on Apple iPhones.
MetaFacts expect the broadening of online dating device platforms to encourage churning between sites and the extension of renewals, and not to quickly encourage unattached non-daters to join in online.
MetaFacts Technology User Profile Overview Edition – report available immediately by contacting MetaFacts. View findings in 25 pages of executive summary analysis, 200+ pages of charts and graphs, all supported by 95+ pages of detailed tables. The complete, 300+ page report is delivered to you electronically. This edition is for the U.S. based on the 2010 wave of Technology User Profile gathered among a scrupulously selected set of representative respondents, surveyed both online and offline.To see other research coverage of Internet products and activities – from smartphones to feature phones, desktops to notebooks, social networking, demographics, and attitudes – see the many other Internet-oriented questions TUP covers on www.technologyuser.com.
MetaFacts releases ongoing research on the market shifts and profiles for Smartphones, Netbooks, Mobile PCs, Workplace PCs, Home PCs, Moms and Dads, Web Creators, Broadband, and many other technology industry trends and facts. These TUPdates are short analytical articles in a series of specific topics utilizing the Technology User Profile Annual Edition study, which reveals the changing patterns of technology adoption around the world. Interested technology professionals can sign up at http://technologyuser.com/contact/ for complimentary TUPdates – periodic snapshots of technology markets.
MetaFacts, Inc. is a market research firm focusing exclusively on the technology industries. MetaFacts’ Technology User Profile (TUP) survey is the longest-running, large-scale comprehensive study of its kind, conducted continuously since 1983, the year before Apple released the Apple Macintosh. The detailed results are a primary market sizing and segmentation resource for leading companies providing consumer-oriented technology products and services, such as PCs, printers, software applications, peripherals, consumer electronics, mobile computing, and related services and products. TUP analyzes key trends and the data-rich source can be dived into more deeply for custom analysis. For more information about the syndicated research service, analysis tools, publications and datasets, contact MetaFacts at 1-760-635-4300.