Involvement in Online Dating
Overall, our participants were quite active in online dating. The considerable majority reported having posted an online personals ad (70.9%), responded to one (70.9%), or met someone in person whom they had first encountered online (74.3%).
To obtain a more differentiated view of participants' level of involvement in online dating, we constructed a participation index in which respondents received a “0” if they had neither posted nor responded to an ad, a “1” if they had responded to an ad but not posted one, a “2” if they had posted an ad but not responded to one, and a “3” if they had both posted and responded to ads. Higher numbers thus indicate more extensive use of online personals ads for purposes of meeting potential romantic partners (we considered posting an ad indicative of greater involvement in online dating than responding to an ad because more effort is required to post than to respond). With this index as our metric, our sample is comprised primarily of Internet users who have both posted and responded to ads (64.0%). Of the remainder, 7.4% of participants reported having only responded to ads, an additional 8.0% reported having only posted ads, and 20.6% were “browsers” who had neither posted nor responded to an online personals ad.
On average, participants who had responded to online personals ads reported having responded to approximately 20 ads (M = 19.67, SD = 24.88, range 1 to 100). Reported estimates of the number of responses received by those who had posted ads were considerably higher, averaging about 50 responses (M = 51.80, SD = 77.63, range 0 to 500). Interestingly, participants reported receiving significantly fewer favorable (M = 40.42%, SD = 36.79) than unfavorable (M = 56.14%, SD = 37.05) responses, t(104) = −2.24, p < .05.
Descriptive statistics for participants' estimates of the amount of time in an average week they spent browsing, posting, and responding to online personals ads (as well as time spent in chat rooms and total time spent online) are displayed in Table 2. On average, participants reported spending roughly 19 hours per week online and engaging in some sort of online dating activity (browsing, posting, or responding to ads) for an average of about 3 hours per week (or about 20% of their total time online).
Table 2. Time Spent in Online Dating-Related Activity, in Chat Rooms, and Total Time Online (in Hours per Week)
|Browsing personals ads||2.61||2.28||0.2 –15.0||131|
|Responding to ads||1.59||1.74||0.1 –10.0||103|
|Posting ads||1.25||0.90||0.05 –5.0||80|
|Online dating activity (total)a||3.23||3.25||0.0–16.0||164|
|Ratio of total time in online dating activity to total time online||0.21||0.22||0.0–1.00||164|
|Chat rooms||3.90||4.91||0.5 –28.0||57|
|Total time online||18.90||12.41||1.0 –60.0||175|
When asked what they were looking for in an online relationship, the considerable majority of participants expressed interest in seeking fun, companionship, and someone to talk to (see Table 3). Most also reported interests in developing casual friendships and dating relationships with online partners. Substantially fewer reported using the Internet for the specific purposes of identifying potential sexual or marital partners.
Table 3. Proportion of Participants Seeking Different Types of Relationships Online (N = 176)
|Someone to talk to||87.4|
RQ1:Is Age Associated With Level of Involvement in Online Dating?
Our first research question explored the possibility that involvement in Internet dating might vary as a function of respondent age. As the first step in evaluating the competing hypotheses we advanced concerning the direction the results might take, we calculated point-biserial correlations between age and responses to the items concerning whether participants had ever posted an online personals ad, responded to such an ad, or met face to face with someone they had initially met online. Consistent with the hypothesis that individuals might be more apt to engage in online dating the older they are (H2), each of these correlations was positive. The older the participant, the more likely he or she was to report having responded to an online personals ad, r = .42, p < .001, posted an ad, r = .30, p < .001, and met someone face to face whom he or she had first encountered online, r = .28, p < .001. In addition, age was positively correlated with scores on the participation index, r = 0.37, p < 0.001. As a respondent's age increased, so too did the extensiveness of his or her participation in online dating activities involving the use of online personals ads.
We also investigated the possibility that age might relate to the number of responses participants submitted or received and to their estimates of the proportion of received responses that were favorable and unfavorable. Of the four relevant correlations, only one was significant, providing only weak evidence of an association. Importantly, that evidence again supports H2 rather than H1: Although small, the correlation between age and number of responses to others' ads was small but positive, r = .18, p = .053. The corresponding correlation between age and number of responses received was also positive but failed to achieve significance, r = .16, ns, and the correlations between age and participants' estimates of the proportion of responses that were favorable and unfavorable were nonsignificant (ps > .10) and close to 0 (rs < .04).
Correlational analyses also revealed several significant but generally weak correlations between age and time spent in online dating activities. Estimates of time spent browsing personals ads, r = .19, p < .05, as well as total time engaged in online dating activity, r = .19, p < .05, and the ratio of total time engaged in online activity to total time online, r = .24, p < .01, all increased slightly with participant age. In contrast, total time online, r = −0.06, ns, time spent posting ads, r = .14, ns, and time spent responding to ads, .13, ns, did not vary by age.
Finally, to determine whether age was associated with the kinds of relationships or social opportunities participants' reported seeking in their use of online personals ads, we calculated point-biserial correlations between age and endorsement of the sexual relationship and marriage partner options (i.e., the two types of relationships not endorsed by the considerable majority of respondents). Although neither correlation was large, both were consistent with Hypothesis 2. The older the participant, the more he or she was likely to report using the Internet to seek marital and sexual partners, r = .22, p = .01 and r = .16, p < .05, respectively.
In sum, although the observed associations tend to be small to very small in size (and some variables show no association whatsoever), the overall pattern of results provides consistent support for Hypothesis 2 over Hypothesis 1. Across the majority of variables we examined, if any association between participant age and online dating activity was observed, the tendency was for involvement in Internet dating via online personals ads to increase—rather than decrease—with age.
RQ2: Is Age Associated With an Individual's Self-Reported Level of Satisfaction With Offline Methods of Meeting People?
Our second research question asked whether satisfaction with offline methods of meeting others might vary with age. On average, participants' responses to the satisfaction question suggested that they were neither particularly satisfied nor particularly dissatisfied with offline means of meeting potential romantic partners, M = 3.75 (on a 7-point scale; SD = 1.56). Congruent with our expectations, however, the picture looked considerably different when we took participants' age into consideration. Consistent with the hypothesis that a variety of contextual life changes associated with increasing age might render older individuals more inclined than younger individuals to experience dissatisfaction with their efforts to meet people through offline means (H3), age was substantially negatively correlated with participants' ratings of satisfaction with non-Internet related methods of meeting people, r = −0.43, p < 0.001.
Additional analyses revealed small but significant associations between age and reported use of several of the offline methods for meeting partners that we investigated. The older the participant, the less likely he or she was to report meeting people by going to bars/night clubs, r = −0.24, p < 0.01 or through friends, r = −0.33, p < 0.001, and the more likely he or she was to report meeting people through newspaper personals ads, r = 0.25, p < 0.01. Age was also significantly negatively correlated with the total number of offline methods participants reported having used to meet others, r = −.28, p < .001. This pattern of results provides some support for our hypothesis that individuals' opportunities for meeting potential romantic partners narrow with age (H4) and thus for our assumption that, as they age, individuals may be more likely to seek nonconventional means of accessing dates such as are available through the Internet and print personals.
RQ3: Is Age Associated With Perceptions of the Stigma Associated With Online Dating?
Our final research question addressed the issue of stigma by exploring whether age was associated with participants' decisions to disclose to close others the fact that they use the Internet to meet people. We tested two competing hypotheses: H5 was predicated on the assumption that older adults might attach more stigma to online dating because, compared to their younger counterparts, their experiences during their early dating years (before online dating became “mainstream”) may lead them to view online dating as unusual and unconventional. H6, in contrast, was based on the assumption that younger adults might attach greater stigma to online dating because they have substantially greater access than older adults to the sorts of natural institutions that offer easy access to large numbers of potential partners. Faced with broader opportunities to find dates through offline means, younger participants might then be more inclined than older adults to view those who “resort” to Internet dating as deviant.
In actuality, the considerable majority of our sample (70.3%) reported that they had disclosed their involvement in Internet dating to family and friends. Contrary to expectations, however, neither the association between age and disclosure, r = 0.10, ns, nor the correlation between age and favorability of targets' responses to disclosure were significant, r = −.09, ns. In short, the results supported neither of our hypotheses. Overall, participants reported that the targets of their disclosures had responded in a more or less neutral fashion, M = 4.12 (on a 7-point scale; SD = 0.98).7