General Articles

Online Dating Behaviors: Recent Social Science Research in the News


Source: Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Love, Lies, and What They Learned,” New York Times (November 12, 2011).
Major online dating sites in the U.S. receive over 500 million visits per month. Studies of online dating behaviors, conducted by a variety of social science researchers, were recently highlighted by the New York Times.1 Researchers have gathered data from sources such as Yahoo! Personals, OkCupid,, and Among those who have studied patterns of behavior in online dating are Gerald A. Mendelsohn (Psychology – University of California, Berkeley), Michael J. Rosenfeld (Sociology – Stanford University), Helen Fisher (Anthropology – Rutgers University), Catalina L. Toma (Communication Arts – University of Wisconsin, Madison), Jeffrey T. Hancock (Communication – Cornell University), Nicole B. Ellison (Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media – Michigan State University), Coye Cheshire (School of Information, University of California, Berkeley), and Rose McDermott (Political Science, Brown University).
Key Findings:
·      Between 2007 and 2009, 21 percent of heterosexual couples and 61 percent of same-sex couples met online.2
·      Over 80 percent of online daters misrepresent their age, height, or weight in their profiles.3
·      Misleading online profiles often describe an idealized self, a set of aspirations that the person posting a profile genuinely intends to achieve but in reality may never quite do so, and posted with little deliberate intention to deceive.4
·      The internet’s impact on historic patterns of interracial dating may be less transformative than widely supposed: a study of one major online dating site found that over 80 percent of contacts initiated by white members were to other whites, with only 3 percent of contacts to black members.5
Although online dating services have existed since the internet first became widely accessible nearly twenty years ago, relatively little research has been conducted about dating behaviors online in contrast to more ‘traditional’ courtship behaviors. With evidence that perhaps 1 in 5 heterosexual couples and 2 in 3 same-sex couples now meet online, it is crucial for sexuality educators and other sexual health promotion professionals to understand the impact of online dating on sexual expectations and behaviors. Given the importance of strong communication skills to healthy sexuality, educators should address the role of online dating services with age-appropriate activities to help learners understand the potential (and the limitations) of such services.
1 Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Love, Lies, and What They Learned,” New York Times, 12 November 2011, accessed 15 November 2011, <>.
2 Rosenfeld MJ, Thomas RJ (2010). Meeting online: The rise of the internet as a social intermediary, draft working paper, accessed 15 November 2011,
3 Toma CL (2011). What lies beneath: The linguistic traces of deception in online dating profiles." Journal of Communication, in press.
4 Ellison NB, Hancock JT, Toma, CL (2011). Profile as promise: A framework for conceptualizing veracity in online dating self-presentations. New Media & Society, in press. Pre-publication draft accessed 15 November 2011, <>.
5 Yasmin Anwar, “In Online Dating, Blacks More Open to Romancing Whites than Vice Versa, UC Berkely News Center, 11 February 2011, accessed 15 November 2011, <>.