Online dating is desegregating America

Online dating is often treated as a wacky new trend. But it’s one of the biggest social transformations in human history.

Since people started living in big societies several thousand years ago, couples have gotten together mostly because their families wanted them to. The idea that it is normal and OK for people to find and choose their spouses “on their own” is a fairly new thing, only a few hundred years old at most. Even since then, this individual search for love has usually ended with a romantic introduction through family or friends.

Greater numbers of diverse couples in turn change the demographics of their communities, their workplaces, their religious groups, their children’s schools and so on.

While these matches certainly aren’t the arranged marriages of old, they’re not all that different in outcomes: people marrying other people who have been vetted and approved of by their close confidants, and who are typically from similar family backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, social class and religion.

But suddenly, in a blink of history’s eye, the U.S. has become a place where it is common for newlyweds to have recently been perfect strangers — without any friends or acquaintances in common, without families that knew each other — until the couple found each other through online dating. While couples who met through the internet were fairly rare in the 1990s, they’ve increased exponentially since the turn of the century, and now finding love online is the most common way that romantic relationships begin in the U.S., accounting for a third of new couples and marriages.