Breaking Down the Pew Research Center’s Online Dating Study: What Does It Mean for Modern Love?

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Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2019 where they asked Americans about their views and experiences toward online dating and relationships. Now keep in mind that this study is already four years old, and many say that we live in a much different world now in 2023 than we did in 2019. But despite some significant changes that have occurred in the past few years, much of this study still applies to the online dating scene in 2023. Trends are gradual. Things don’t change with the flip of a switch.

So, we’ve been tasked with the duty of digging into Pew’s study, revealing the implications of what it means for modern love, and showing you some creative ways that online dating apps can help you overcome some of the challenges that many men and women face in finding dates and developing quality relationships and connections. Let’s dive headfirst into Pew’s Online Dating Study, pull it apart, and discover how to approach modern dating and relationships going further into the 2020s.

Finding #1: “Nearly half (47%) of all Americans say dating is harder today than it was 10 years ago.”

This Pew Research Center study was done in 2019, so ten years ago, from that point was 2009. This was the year that Obama took the White House, people were still playing Farmville on Facebook, and Avatar was out in theaters, setting all kinds of historic film records. It was the year of “Imma let you finish” and Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, shuffling off this mortal coil. 2009 was also largely seen as the stepping stone from the prosperous mid-2000s to the post-recession world of the early 2010s.

But the world was quite different in many other respects, ways that are more relevant to the subject at hand.

  • Back in 2009, not everyone had their noses stuck in a smartphone.
  • Online dating was a thing but not nearly as ubiquitous or streamlined as it is now.
  • And, of course, the #MeToo movement hadn’t happened yet.

The dynamic between men and women was much different. People were not offended by every little thing back then, and the media was far more restrained in stoking division.

So, with these things in mind, let’s cover the main reasons why dating now is much more complicated than it was back in 2009 for those who participated in the online dating study.

Pew Search Screenshot

More Physical and Emotional Risk

Meeting new people using online dating apps will always carry an element of risk. You can only truly know someone once you’ve met them in person and spent a significant amount of time with them. And another major risk that comes with online dating is fake profiles. These can be scammers looking to take advantage of unsuspecting singles to get money or catfishers who want to get revenge, find an outlet for poor self-esteem, or sexually exploit someone.

What this means for today’s dating landscape is that men and women alike need to take as many precautions as possible, which can include developing a vetting system for their matches and being aware of the safeguards and safety tools that their online dating app might offer. Employ some of these techniques and best practices to minimize the potential amount of physical or emotional risk.

Investigation Graph

Vetting Your Matches

  • Check out your matches’ other social media profiles (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) to confirm their identity.
  • If your dating app offers profile verification options, look for a verification badge on their profile page to see that their identity has been officially confirmed.
  • Some platforms offer video chats (eharmony with Video Dates and Zoosk with Great Dates, for example). Request a video date to confirm the identity of your match.
Safety and Security Icon

Safety Tools

  • Many dating apps allow their members to block or report troublesome or illegitimate profiles.
  • Use the privacy controls offered by your dating app so you can control who can see and can’t see your profile.
  • High-quality encrypted connections keep your private data and financial information completely contained to the site.

Technology/More Impersonal

Technology is like a double-edged sword in modern online dating. While it’s created the conditions for singles to seek endless dating opportunities and relationships anywhere across the country or around the world, technology has made many feel that dating now is a cold, impersonal matter where there’s a ton of competition, making you one in an endless sea of many possibilities. Dating apps, in many ways, treat dating and online relationships as a commodity.

The challenge here is to use the technology to your benefit and still forge a quality relationship. In today’s dating scene, you want to differentiate yourself from the competition, and one of the best ways to harness this power is to use simple honesty and sincerity in communicating what you’re looking for.

Profile Graph

Develop a Profile That Stands Out

  • Fill out as many of the bio information sections as possible to capture all the things that make you unique.
  • Upload good, clear profile photos that are appropriate and generate interest.
  • Complete the self-authored bio sections if the site offers them as an option for your profile. You can expand upon the regular profile information and fill in any gaps so your matches can get a well-rounded picture of who you are.
Honesty Graph

Honest and Direct Communication

  • Clearly state your dating or relational goals on your profile. Use concise, direct language: “I’m looking for a marriage partner” or “I’m not interested in anything long-term.”
  • Say what you mean.
  • Be honest in what you’re saying about yourself on your profile. Honesty will help you avoid a lot of headaches that come with lying.
  • Be transparent with your matches about what you want, but not in an overbearing or overly aggressive way.
  • Treat others with respect and humility. These things go a long way, and they show others that you have integrity.

Although online dating can seem impersonal and commodified, you can still use the technology to your advantage to forge authentic and genuine connections. And you can bring a personal, human touch to a dating platform by being honest and sincere!

More Casual

Yes, more people are interested in casual dating and romance than there have ever been. And most of these singles are using sites that cater specifically to short-term relationships, flings, and hookups. But if you’re someone who feels that the casual nature of online dating is hindering your progress of meeting that special someone, chances are you’re using the wrong kind of dating app or website.

For profound, meaningful relationships, you need to use a dating app that caters to long-term relationships or helps you find your soulmate or a marriage partner. And there are plenty of them out there:

Yes, a casual approach to dating is pervasive in our culture. Still, online dating apps specializing in certain types of relationships can connect you with singles who share your mindset. You don’t have to settle for a casual dating app. Find out which ones cater to marriages and long-term relationships or help you find your soulmate.

Societal Expectations Have Changed

One of the significant impacts of the #MeToo movement is that men nowadays are less bold than they once were in approaching women for dates and relationships. The result has been that fewer men are engaging in the dating culture, and fewer men are getting into serious, committed relationships, the reason being that there might be too much risk or drama to make the experience rewarding.

We’re not saying to bury your head in the sand when it comes to the climate of the culture because trends and expectations can give us context for people’s actions and the way they carry themselves. It can also help us understand how to navigate the waters of online dating in the 2020s.

Find Matches Graph

Tactics to Find Like-Minded Matches

  • Adjust your search filter settings to discover suitable matches using terms like education, occupation, values, religious/political beliefs, interests, or hobbies.
  • State your relationship goals clearly in your bio section or your profile headline to weed out matches who are interested in other pursuits.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a stand for what you believe in and want in the dating experience. Just be sure to present it clearly and respectfully. Avoid presenting these things in an extreme manner that might scare off potential contacts.

This isn’t a black pill. Just because societal expectations toward behavior and gender roles have changed doesn’t mean that you cannot find someone special out there who appreciates you and sees eye-to-eye with you in relationships and dating. Trust us when we say that no one is so special that they won’t be able to find a large group of people who share the same views and opinions somewhere online.

People Are Busier

Online dating sites are a blessing for busy people. Those with hectic schedules can now find dates or form relationships, and they don’t have to rely on the more traditional ways of networking and connecting, like hitting up the clubs, attending social events, or going on speed dates.

An invaluable bit of advice on the matter of busyness and online dating is to be understanding of other people’s schedules when you’re just getting to know them. You cannot come onto the scene with a sense of entitlement and act as if your matches owe you their time, especially if they’re already committed timewise to other areas of their life, be it their career, family, or hobbies.

Finding #2: “Most daters don’t feel like their dating life is going well and say it’s been hard to find people to date.”

According to the Pew study, 67% of respondents felt their dating life wasn’t going the way they had hoped, and 75% found it somewhat challenging to find suitable dates in the past year.

Finding Someone Who Wants the Same Type of Relationship

While it’s relatively easy to find someone in your day-to-day life whose picture of the ideal relationship is the same as yours, modern dating apps make this traditional dating struggle less relevant. As we mentioned before, there are dating apps that cater to specific groups and online dating needs. This includes serious or casual relationships. It’s all about the type of dating site you’re using.

Pew Search Screenshot 2

Casual Dating or Romance

Dating AppBest For

Tinder Logo
Tinder Review

Best for flirting, flings, and hookups by “swiping right”

zoosk logo
Zoosk Review

Best for casual romance or dating

Bumble logo
Bumble Review

Find casual dating or romance (the woman sends the first message)

Plenty of Fish logo
Plenty of Fish Review

Discover casual encounters within a large dating pool

OkCupid logo
OkCupid Review

Best for casual romance or dating

Meaningful Dating or Relationships

Dating AppBest For

eharmony Logo
eharmony Review

Serious dates and relationships centered around compatibility

Elite Singles logo
Elite Singles Review

Discover love and meaningful relationships with educated singles

Christian Mingle logo
Christian Mingle Review

Find a marriage partner who shares your Christian beliefs

Jdate logo
Jdate Review

Find a Jewish marriage partner

SilverSingles logo
SilverSingles Review

Develop a meaningful relationship with singles over 50

If you’re finding it hard to find someone who wants the same type of relationship, all you must do is do some simple research on dating apps and who they cater to, and you can find the right kind of relationship before you know it!

Find Someone Who Meets Your Expectations

This is the beauty of dating apps that comes with compatibility testing or search features. You can quickly find a qualified list of potential matches that adhere to your dating preferences and parameters. Sure, a dating platform might not select matches that perfectly align with all your standards, but they do a great job of getting you in the ballpark.

If we’re talking about search filters, many modern dating apps will allow you to perform searches using terms and filters like:

  • Age range
  • Gender
  • Appearance (height, weight, hair/eye color, etc.)
  • Location or distance
  • Occupation/Income
  • Educational level
  • Religious beliefs
  • Interests or hobbies
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Smoking or drinking habits
  • Languages spoken
  • Etc.

Some dating sites don’t use search filters but opt instead to offer a compatibility or personality questionnaire which captures new members’ information and uses that as a basis for generating a good list of daily matches. eHarmony is an excellent example of this kind of service, and here are some examples of the questions asked during the registration process:

  • What instrument sound do you like the most?
  • Are you easily excited about things?
  • What is the style and the color of your clothing?
  • Which of the houses pictured appeals to you the most?
  • How would you react to XYZ’s scenario?

Limited People in Your Local Area

Due to location-based matching and search filters that sort out singles by distance, you could discover a ton of people you’d otherwise never meet if you relied on going out to meet and network with new people.

Just think about the number of people you interact with in your day-to-day comings and goings. You may brush shoulders with a lot of people throughout your day, but not everyone has those opportunities. Some work long hours. Some don’t drive. Some people have commitments with family or friends that keep them contained.

Dating Apps with the Best Dating Pools

Dating AppDating PoolCountries Served

eharmony Logo
eharmony

16+ million

200+

Tinder Logo
Tinder

8+ million

197+

zoosk logo
Zoosk

40 million

80+

Bumble logo
Bumble

11 million

150

Christian Mingle logo
Christian Mingle

16 million

7

There’s also the issue of using a dating app with too few members, resulting in many of your matches being far away from your location. You might consider joining a larger platform that gets you the dating pool you need to find viable options near you, or you might have to begin meeting new people through friends or family.

Finding #3: “A majority (57%) of women – and 35% of men – say they have experienced some kind of harassing behavior from someone they were dating or had been on a date with.”

We wish we could say that dating apps come with no risk whatsoever. But the fact of the matter is that there are scammers, catfishers, and illegitimate profiles that plague many modern dating sites. And then there are all the possible problems and issues between legitimate members, ranging from pressure for sex to inappropriate touching and everything in between.

Here are some of the harassing behaviors reported in the study and our best advice on how to navigate these issues if they arise.

Touched Them in an Uncomfortable Way

Our best advice here is to never put yourself in a situation where you’re alone with someone unfamiliar. For a first date (or for the first few dates), follow these guidelines to avoid possibly being cornered, isolated, or away from the watching eyes of others:

  • Always choose a public place where there are plenty of people around. Coffee shops, restaurants, and bustling public parks are good first-date locations.
  • Transport yourself to and from the date. Don’t rely on your date to get you there. If you need to cut out for any reason, you cannot do so if they were your ride.
  • Form an emergency plan with a friend or family member if you’re meeting up with someone you’re not quite sure about. You can text your emergency contact if things get uncomfortable or have them meet up and get you.
  • If you’re trying to avoid being touched inappropriately, choose your clothes carefully. Don’t give your date any invitation or encouragement to approach you inappropriately.

Pressured for Sex

It’s never a bad idea to come out and say to your matches how you see sex fitting into a potential relationship. If you’re someone who is saving yourself for your marriage partner or a soulmate, make that clear either in your profile or initial conversations. If you want to hook up with your matches, let them know that you’re okay with sex being a part of the arrangement or relationship. If you’re somewhere between these two extremes, we feel it’s fine to communicate with your matches that sex is on the table so long as it’s consensual and it only happens once you’re comfortable.

Our points for avoiding inappropriate touching in the early stages of a relationship apply here too. If you want to avoid being pressured for sex, make sure you’re not alone with your date.

Unasked for Sexually Explicit Images

For casual online dating, hookup culture, spicy photographs are the norm, and many people are okay with getting them from those they’ve met online.

If you’re someone who’s not comfortable with getting unsolicited photos that are sexually explicit, you can let your matches know ahead of time that this is a dealbreaker for you. For those who get these unasked-for images, we recommend using your dating app’s reporting or blocking controls to cut off contact with these matches and to inform the app or website as to what happened.

Stay Safe Graph

Shared Explicit Images of You with Other People

It’s never a great idea to share explicit images of yourself with anyone because there’s always the chance it can make its way to other peoples’ hands or, God forbid, onto the Internet for anyone to see. If you want to send hot pictures to your matches, go ahead, but know the potential risks and consequences of doing so. The best way, though, to avoid a scenario like this is to practice explicit image abstinence.

You should keep your contact information private from anyone new that you’re still getting to know. This includes your home address and your phone number. It’s a safer bet to use social media messaging functions to communicate with new matches and prospects. Only share contact information once you get to know and trust someone with these private details. By doing this, you can avoid a scenario where someone shares your contact info without your permission or knowledge.

Finding #4: “Many Americans say an increased focus on sexual harassment and assault has muddied the waters, especially for men, in the dating landscape.”

This is a super nuanced issue, in our opinion.

Men have done terrible things to women in the past, and it was overlooked for many years or just accepted as the norm. The #MeToo Movement gave rise to this idea of female empowerment, shifting a lot of the momentum and power of the dating culture over to the ladies. And while we don’t disagree with showing women respect and honor in dating and relationships, one of the negative impacts of #MeToo is that men are more hesitant now to approach women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment or assault at some point in the relationship or encounter. This has resulted in more men forgoing serious relationships, which leaves many women wondering why they cannot find someone.

This is what we mean when we say this is a nuanced issue:

Obviously, men need to treat women with honor and respect—no question about it. But many women expect the man to take the lead in pursuing her and making advances to further the relationship. So, men do need some freedom and liberties to make this happen creatively and do so with women acting in good faith. Because of this fear of having their advances perceived in the wrong light, many men become uninterested in engaging with women altogether or look for hookups but nothing serious.

We know there’s some happy medium between these two extremes. At the end of the day, men and women want to be satisfied in their relationships. We hope that men and women alike can recognize the nuance of this issue and take a more moderate approach in their relationships, working together to build something based on mutual respect, trust, and honesty.

Finding #5: “Premarital sex is largely seen as acceptable, but more Americans see open relationships and sex on the first date as taboo.”

Looking at these numbers, most of the American dating public doesn’t hold super extreme views on dating and relationships. Most people are okay with consenting sex between adults in serious or casual relationships, and many are, unsurprisingly, all on board with showing restraint in relationships. What does that mean? It means that the American dating public is more moderate and respectful in its dating practices than many imagined. More on this below!

Sex Between Adults in Committed Relationships

According to Pew’s study, most Americans operate under the idea that adults in committed dating relationships have sex. It’s seen as acceptable by most Americans who were surveyed. Based on this study, the idea of saving yourself for your marriage or your soulmate is more a minority opinion nowadays. Let’s be honest; it probably has been for several decades now.

Following your natural urges is normal for dating Americans to subscribe to, and putting off your desires is recognized less and less as the ordinary course of action. Operating under the results of the online dating study, it’s safe to say that most people you meet online will be okay with having sex in a committed relationship with you.

Pew Search Screenshot 3

Casual Sex Between Consenting Adults

The American dating public is somewhat split on the idea of hookup culture, but most say that they see it as an acceptable practice. Americans lean more toward satisfying their desires than take a more extreme stance that casual sex between consenting adults is always unacceptable. Again, most of the matches you’ll find at your dating site of choice will also be okay with having casual, consensual sex with you if that’s what you’re both looking for.

Consenting Adults Sharing Explicit Photos

So, most of the American dating public sees consensual sex within a serious or casual relationship as acceptable, but they aren’t so keen on consenting adults sharing explicit photos. We can only guess that it might have something to do with the risk involved with these kinds of images being shared with others without that person’s consent. Whether you see it as right or wrong, there’s no denying that there are too many risks involved with sharing sensitive photos with people who can use them as blackmail or leverage.

Having an Open Relationship

Based on the results of this Pew study, we can definitively conclude that most of the American dating public is at peace with the idea of having multiple partners or sexual encounters throughout a lifetime. However, cheating or having multiple partners at one time is unacceptable to most. 48% say an open relationship is unacceptable, while 20% say it’s rarely acceptable. Only 14% think open relationships are okay.

Finding #6: “Many singles are open to dating someone who is different from them, but certain characteristics would give some people pause.”

Now keep in mind that the Pew online dating study was conducted in 2019. Some of the political aspects of this survey might not apply as much in 2023 as they did four years ago. We’re dealing with a completely different context today, and ideas that weren’t popular a short while ago are gaining traction. So, we’re not going to discuss those parts. You can draw your conclusions on how those translate today in a very different political landscape.

Pew Search Screenshot 4

The significant elements that gave Americans pause in pursuing an online relationship were:

  1. Your match lives far away
  2. Your match has a lot of debt
  3. Your match is ten years younger
  4. Your match has children from a previous relationship
  5. Your match is ten years older
Long Distance Graph

Distance

We understand this one completely. Long-distance relationships can be challenging, and many only work out if you have something good going. These relationships require a lot of work and communication, and you get little in return. You can’t enjoy their company, you can’t engage in a physical relationship, and there’s a significant disconnect between the relationship and the day-to-day goings-on in your life. We’re not surprised that 51% are hesitant to get into a long-distance relationship.

Cost Icon

Debt

In many serious relationships, partners will have joint bank accounts, and any income is shared between both partners. It goes from being “my money” to “our money.” And the idea of getting into a relationship with someone with a lot of debt isn’t something that most Americans like. 49% of respondents would be hesitant to take on a partner with a lot of debt. And this survey was done in 2019 when the economy was firing on all cylinders, and there was a much better cost of living.

Now fast forward to 2023, where we have rampant inflation, expensive fuel, and our dollars don’t take us as far as they used to. The debt issue is even more relevant now than it was four years ago. We could imagine if Pew did an updated online dating study, they might find debt at the top of the list.

Age Gap Graph

Age Gap

We lumped the third and fifth results into one part because they both pertain to an age gap between matches. 38% of Americans are looking to date or romance someone roughly the same age. If you’re talking about an age gap of ten years or more, you and your partner could be in drastically different phases of life, and your maturity levels might not be in sync. Just think of how different your life and mindset are in your 20s versus your 30s. Nuff said.

Children Graph

Children

While some people are fine with the idea of dating someone where there are kids from previous marriages or other relationships, 36% said this might give them pause. Taking on kids is a serious matter. It can require a lot of maturity and sacrifice. And if your relationship gets more serious, you might begin to feel dissatisfied if your partner doesn’t want you to take any part in instilling your values in their kids.

Finding #7: “While meeting partners through personal networks is still the most common kind of introduction, about one-in-ten partnered adults (12%) say they met their partner online.”

Pew put out some stats on how people are meeting new people and finding true love, marriage partners, or dates. Here’s what they found:

Pew Search Screenshot 5

Key Takeaways

  • Dating apps seem to be more popular with younger people and LGB members living in cities and major urban centers. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual singles use dating apps the most (28%).
  • The older you get, the less the likelihood of you using a dating app for finding love, romance, or dates. 8% of 50–64-year-olds and 5% of 65+ singles are using online dating.
  • Most people still meet through personal networks like family or friends, especially those in their 30s and 40s.

Finding #8: “Half of singles say they aren’t currently looking for a relationship or dates.”

In 2019, there appeared to be a lot of singles who were uninterested in finding a partner, dating, or partaking in a meaningful relationship. And these are the reasons they gave Pew as to why dating was not a top priority for them at the time.

Pew Search Screenshot 6

We’ll focus on the top two reasons that non-daters are interested in keeping to themselves and avoiding online dating or relationships.

More Important Priorities

Non-daters cited more important priorities as the top thing that was taking up the time they could be dating someone online. And this makes sense. People have their careers to think of and friendships to maintain. Some are single parents who want to spend time with their kids while they are little. Introducing a relationship into the mix for these non-daters would muddy the waters and cause them to lose focus on the areas of their life that they highly value.

They Like Being Single

Many people are interested in being single simply because they like being single. When you don’t have a partner or significant other to worry about, you have a lot more time to dedicate to the things you genuinely love doing, be it your career, your hobbies and interests, or your friends. Being single simplifies things and allows you to experience much more freedom. And that’s the second highest reason that non-daters choose to avoid relationships.

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