Is the Internet Boosting Marriage Rates?

June 3rd, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

A new study argues that Internet access is halting a drop in marriage rates.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If Martha Stewart can search for Mr. Right online, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to do the same. In fact, the sentiment that people are increasingly turning to the web over friends and family to meet people because it’s easier and now widely accepted is reflected in new research from the University of Montreal, suggesting the Internet is actually responsible for a halt in plummeting marriage rates.

“The basic intuition here,” says Brad Plumer at The Washington Post, “is that stuff like online dating makes it easier for people to find potential partners […] Researchers have already noted that the Internet allows us to find jobs and homes more easily. Why not spouses?”

To test the theory, economist Andriana Bellou compared the uneven rate of broadband adoption in the United States through the 1990s and 2000s with Current Population Survey data on marriage rates for Americans aged 21-30. She found that marriage rates (on average) grew more in states with greater broadband adoption.

The research, which she published in “The Impact of Internet Diffusion on Marriage Rates: Evidence from the Broadband Market,” a paper for the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, suggests that the Internet’s effect on the marriage market could be just as transformative on its effect on the job market.

Of course, more marriages don’t necessarily mean better ones. As The Wall Street Journal’s Brenda Cronin points out, Bellou’s research can’t measure if all the new marriages will stick, an issue which Bellou also addresses in the study: “If the Internet indeed makes meeting people easier at all times and ages then one might consider entering a marriage less thoughtfully to begin with,” Bellou says. “This would imply more marriages and remarriages but also more divorces. If, on the other hand, the Internet allows matching between more compatible people, one would expect divorce rates to decrease. More research is required to disentangle these effects.”

What does your gut – and anecdotal evidence – tell you? Weigh in.