Andrew Norton’s recent post about Facebook* reminded me of something I noticed in the US: the complete acceptance of internet dating. Last month, we learned on two occasions of friends who have gotten married to people they met online (one on Match, the other on Friendster). And in New York, my single female friends don’t seem at all concerned about the lemons problem that seemed to plague online dating some years ago. They have careful ways of sorting out the oddballs (several emails, one phonecall, first date in a public place), and are much happier with what they find online than elsewhere.

All of which makes me wonder two things:

  1. Will the divorce rate from eMarriages be lower or higher than average?
  2. What will the market share of internet marriages be by the time my son is of dating age, in the 2030s?

* FWIW, I’ve been a user for some time (it used to be restricted to those with email addresses at US universities), and am quite a fan. Particularly after Joshua Gans’ recent identity theft problem, there’s quite a bit of personal information that I’m happy to put on Facebook, but wouldn’t post on my blog.

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12 Responses to eMarriage

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    The online identity “problem” can be solved and is technically quite simply. The trick is to give each person full control over their own electronic information. We are developing such a system but it faces a large social hurdle (to which we think have a solution). The problem is not the “bad guys” but it is governments and other organisations who think they should have control over your online information. Our proposal is that if any organisation keeps information about a person then the person should have access to that information and should always give permission if the information is passed on to others and should have access to the destination place of the receiving organisation. This way you know where your information is. It now becomes difficult for someone to fake your identity because if they try to then you will be asked permission for your information to be passed on. To give an example. If a person tries to use your medibank card as an identifier then you are asked if this OK (not the person trying to fake your identity).

    Why are governments and organisations a problem? It is because they treat your personal information as though it was theirs which is quite understandable as the most valuable asset many organisations have is their customer list.

    The implementation of the system is to make it worthwhile for organisations to allow you to access your data and then to share your information on their systems with other organisations – as a quid pro quo with other organisations. The technical part to achieve this is to use your voice as your identifier and the application we are starting with is call centre identification. You call and the call centre knows who you are from your voice. The second application is delivery of credentials such as University Transcripts to employers.

    Anyone interested in getting their organisation to participate please contact me:)

  2. “Will the divorce rate from eMarriages be lower or higher than average?”

    If the ‘digital divide’ stuff is right, some of those most prone to relationship breakdown will be removed from the pool of potential partners.

    Apart from that, the case for a lower rate would be that by accessing a larger pool of potential partners a better match can be made.

    The case for a higher rate is that by selecting outside of one’s existing social group there will be fewer friends in common and less knowledge of the person’s past, so flaws won’t be as easily discovered. I have had the experience of an internet fiancee quizzing me about her husband to-be and my longstanding friend. In a more conventional relationship formation, she would have been able to find out the answers to her questions before agreeing to marriage.

  3. Rajat Sood says:

    There’s also the issue of the type of people who get eMarried. Would they be more or less prone to divorce than those who meet their partners in a more conventional way, leaving aside informational issues? I suppose this could work both ways. But for example, perhaps the reason they are using the internet is because of their relative lack of social skills, or at least a lack during their key partnering years (say mid-late 20s)?

  4. Rajat – Andrew’s original post seemed to be suggesting that your traditional ‘lemons’ interepretation of internet dating no longer applied – or at least that there is a diverse group of people online, and with a few questions you can avoid the ‘lemons’. If the membership numbers of some of these sites are to be believed that must be the case. I think that argument has logic – why just rely on the limited pool of people existing networks will provide? I suspect that internet dating is mainly a supplement to old methods of partner search, rather than primarily a last resort method.

  5. Rajat Sood says:

    I wouldn’t go so far as suggesting that internet dating sites are populated solely or even mainly by “lemons”. Maybe I should not have referred to a lack of “social skills”. My point was that people who form friendships and partnerships easily and/or young don’t have any need for these sites. Having said that, I just did a basic search on RSVP for women up to 25 living in Melbourne and got over a 1000 hits, so I admit that my impressions may be out of date.

  6. Rajat – Married men should not be on RSVP! As with the internet generally, dating sites reduce search costs for those with specialised interests. In that sense, partner-search methods are catching up with what appears to be greater selectivity in partner choice, with people endlessly searching for Ms/Mr Right instead of fairly quickly marrying a satisfactory if not perfect person.

  7. Rajat Sood says:

    Yeah, it did feel a bit weird even though I didn’t stop to read any profiles. Mind you, I used to have a profile on RSVP in my single days and they probably still count me as a “member”. (So none of my comments on internet daters are meant to be derogatory.) But could this greater selectivity you mention be capturing what I’m talking out – ie fussier people are more likely to split up than less-fussy people?

  8. Rajat – It could work two ways, couldn’t it? If you are fussy, once you have found Ms/Mr Right it is going to be hard to find a replacement, making it less rational to split if you place high value in being in a relationship. On the other hand, perhaps fussy people expect too much and will never be satisfied.

    Or e-marriages aside, perhaps dating sites facilitate adultery and will therefore make all marriages more likely to splilt up. Or perhaps they increase the confidence of people who are dissatisfied with their current relationship that they could find another partner. But so far marriage and divorce rates seem stable, so there is little evidence of any effects at the aggregate level.

  9. conrad says:


    Actually, if you search in the older groups then this is in fact more interesting than the younger groups (well in my books, anyway). From quick observation, what I notice is that there are lots of groups that find it hard to find partners for reasons that have nothing to do with social problems — there seem to be innumerate women over 5’9 that are well educated, for example — a fairly uncommon occurence in the general population.

    I’d love to get some of these databases from different countries and compare then to actual statitics (you could tick the wheaten complexion box Rajat :), so you could try and look for general patterns of dishonesty etc. that differ across cultures.

  10. Andrew Leigh says:

    I’m guessing that eDating matters most for niche groups. If you’re a man looking for a man in a small country town, the internet must be a boon. OTOH, if you’re looking for same in Paddington, eDating is likely to be less useful than a stroll down to the local pub.

    Conrad, I’ve been wondering about that research for a long time. A natural way to do it would be to post fake profiles, and see how response rates varied across countries. In that way, you might hope to learn something about how dating markets work in these different places.

    Then again, I’m also married, so perhaps the strict Norton rule precludes such a research project.

  11. conrad says:

    I (and some of my colleagues moreso) have actually tried to track down some of these databases, but they seem very difficult to get, even completely decontextualized ones.

    I have been wondering if it would be possible to set up an automated searcher for it instead — There are definitely interesting trends to be found even in terms of things people are typically dishonest about (like being overweight — almost no one ticks this box. That can’t be true, unless fat people don’t go on these sites). Other things of interest are things like the “want children” box. In some countries almost no-one ticks this until they hit the almost past-it age groups, but other countries it is almost always ticked (despite often very similar birth rates). Obviously there is social pressure not to admit this in some places more than others, no matter how true it is for some people, and this seems a good way of quantifying it (and other such variables).

  12. Rajat Sood says:

    Conrad, I can tell you this – according to my mum, “wheatish” is a euphemism for dark. And we don’t want dark, no way! It’s no accident that “Fair and Lovely” ads invade the cricket coverage on Indian TV. Indian matrimonial ads also regularly mention height, weight and income, as well as ethnic subgroup/caste. But I think most of the deception centres around non-disclosure of previous marriages.

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