Online dating through either websites (e.g., Match.com, Parship), phone apps (e.g., Tinder, Grindr) or online social networks (e.g., Facebook, Instagram) is now one of the most common ways of selecting partners. Digital dating platforms reduce the importance of geographical proximity and offer opportunities to meet people outside of one’s own environment and social network, substantially enlarging the pool of potential connections. Social scientists have already started pointing out the transformations brought about by internet dating. Recent studies, for example, found that partners who met online in the US married faster and were less similar in terms of socio-demographic background. Much is left unknown, however, including the impact of internet dating on educational inequalities in marriage. In Germany, for instance, past studies identified that marriage was more often associated with the lower educated, particularly among women. Internet dating, however, could especially favour university-educated women, who may engage more effectively with online resources to meet and find well-suited partners.
To test this hypothesis, Gina Potarca (NCCR LIVES/ Institute of Demography and Socioeconomics, University of Geneva) uses 2008-2019 data from the German Family Panel (pairfam) to analyse educational differences in the transition to marriage among 18-48-year-old adults in heterosexual couples. Results indicate that irrespective of education, men in online-formed couples had greater chances of marrying than men in couples established offline. The analysis also revealed that digital dating improved the marital chances of highly educated women (but not of those with lower levels of education), reversing the original educational gap in marriage. The online dating advantage of well-educated women is partly explained by better matching on marriage attitudes and gender values. Typically facing a scarcity of eligible partners offline, high-educated women seize the opportunities granted by a larger and less restrictive market to select more value-compatible partners and form relationships with a greater likelihood of advancing into marriage. Overall, results indicate the relevance of digital partner markets for union formation and the disruption of social inequalities in marriage.