It’s a simple question and a common one — one whose answer could determine the fates of both a multi-billion dollar industry and millions of lonely hearts.
It’s a question that seems distinctly answerable: we have user data, surveys, clear metrics for success or failure, entire books full of colorful charts.
And yet, just this week, a new analysis from Michigan State University found that online dating leads to fewer committed relationships than offline dating does — that it doesn’t work, in other words.
In fact, this latest proclamation on the state of modern love joins a 2010 study that found more couples meet online than at schools, bars or parties.
And a 2012 study that found dating site algorithms aren’t effective.
And a 2013 paper that suggested Internet access is boosting marriage rates.
Plus a whole host of dubious statistics, surveys and case studies from dating giants like e Harmony and Match.com, who claim — , even!!
— that online dating “works.” This much should be obvious: We don’t actually know.
Some of the reasons for that ambiguity are clear in this latest study.
For starters, there’s this greater cultural issue of how we define relationship success: Is it marriage? Is it what Ok Cupid’s data team calls a “fourway” — four messages back and forth between two semi-interested parties?
That’s a tough one to parse, and different studies have defined it different ways.
(This one, for the record, looked at marriages and other long-term relationships; if you’re not looking to tie the knot, its conclusions aren’t for you.) Then there’s a sort of secondary issue in how we define a site’s actual function, because despite the marketing hype, that isn’t clear.