For those of us old enough to remember a bygone era, online dating used to be this weird, outlier behavior—you’re going on a date with someone you met … on the Internet? My old roommate thought it reeked of desperation, and in 2005, almost a third of Americans would have agreed. But now it’s thoroughly normalized: Tinder alone produces 26 million matches a day, not to mention the app’s many competitors.
These services apparently do their job well: Today, about a third of new marriages in America are created by people who met online. And according to a fascinating new paper, all those right swipes are bringing people from different backgrounds together.
Economists Josué Ortega and Philipp Hergovich use an economic model with math far too sophisticated to get into here to show that online dating enables inter-ethnic coupling. The University of Essex and the University of Vienna researchers say this has to do with how online dating is fundamentally different from the way humans have linked up for the last couple millennia: you can meet total strangers.
It’s way different than the more traditional means of meeting through friends, work, family, a shared activity, becoming neighbors, or even at the local bar. But with a mere swipe, you can pair up with someone well beyond your immediate social environment.
According to Ortega and Hergovich, the apps’ signature behavior of pushing you out of your network has big consequences for interracial marriage, which was made legal in the U.S. just fifty years ago. (This was through the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, the story of which was turned into a film last year.) It’s astounding to think just how rare marrying someone outside of your race used to be: In 1967, just 3 percent of new marriages were across ethnicities. According to Pew, that was up to 17 percent in 2015.
Online dating can’t be the sole reason for the increase, but it has accelerated the trend, the economists argue. America was already diversifying: the percentage of Americans who are white fell from 83.1 percent to 72.4 percent from 1980 to 2010. But the boom in interracial marriages mirrors the penetration of online dating into American life.
“During the 2000’s decade, the percentage of new marriages that are interracial changed from 10.68 percent to 15.54 percent, a huge increase of nearly 5 percentage points, or 50 percent,” Ortega and Hergovich write. “After the 2009 increase, the proportion of new interracial marriage jumps again in 2014 to 17.24 percent, remaining above 17 percent in 2015 too. Again, it is interesting that this increase occurs shortly after the creation of Tinder, considered the most popular online dating app.”
In a stunning reversal from its early reputation as a hookup app, Tinder (and its kin) may be doing something positive for American monogamy. Research indicates that interethnic couples often make more money and their kids do better in school. Indeed, as Georgetown Law professor Sheryll Cashin argued in the New York Times this summer, Interracial Love Is Saving America by training people in empathy and cultural flexibility. Sorry, Vanity Fair: The dating apocalypse this is not.