Spot-On Chart Proves There Are Fewer and Fewer Ways to Meet People

March 14th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

We know empirically that the search for love is an ever-changing game. But it can be hard to picture just how much developments like online dating have changed the game overall.

The chart below, published in a recent BBC article on the changing face of modern romance — and highlighted by the Washington Post's Roberto Ferdman this week — gives us some idea of what those upsets (at least in heterosexual circles) have looked like over the past 70 or so years.

Changing face of dating

The data, from a 2009 study by Stanford sociologist Michael J. Rosenfeld, indicate that many of the tried and true methods of meeting people appear to be fizzling out like so many bad relationships. Connections made through co-workers, friends, college, family friends, neighbors, primary and secondary school, and church were all slumping in 2009. Bars and restaurants, longtime hotbeds for burgeoning relationships, were apparently increasingly popular places for people to meet one another, though the category maintained relative consistency over the past three or four decades.

Not surprisingly, online dating — once an albatross among minglers — saw a sharp increase. And while traditional avenues of meeting people were already on a downward slope, it's likely that the rise of the internet and technology — and the convenience they introduce — only cemented that trajectory. After all, who wants to stumble over words with a stranger when you can swipe away from your bed?

"As a more efficient market, the internet tends to displace other markets for partners," Rosenfeld wrote in a 2012 paper.

The chart indicates that there are increasingly fewer avenues to meet romantic partners. Still, as some on Twitter pointed out in response to the Ferdman's Post article ("There are only three ways to meet anyone anymore"), the chart also proves dating isn't relegated to just a few categories.

Still, the data's downward trends are noteworthy, and the percentage gap between people who said they met each other through coworkers and those who met online is significant. What's more, those gaps have likely grown more vast since 2009. In 2013, for example, just 10 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds reported using online or mobile apps. Two years later, that number had roughly tripled, a Pew survey published in February found.

It's not yet clear how online dating affects the stability or longevity of relationships (though some research has suggested that it isn't a boon). But an important caveat running through all of this is that "online," the method of meeting people most vigorously on the rise, is not necessarily a narrow field — something Rosenfeld is careful to note.

"While it is true that the internet has made communications within existing social networks more efficient (as did the telephone), the internet also has dramatically improved the efficiency of searching for and finding new people outside of one’s preexisting social network, which the telephone never did."

[h/t Washington Post]