Are people less inclined to use online dating as they get older? Do older people think there may be a stigma attached to this method of securing a date, or are they put off by having to use a computer or Smartphone? Do older people find the idea of using a dating site or dating app to be an unconventional method for seeking a date?
The answers to these questions may not be as straightforward as you think, so let’s start by considering two possible viewpoints. If younger individuals judge online dating to be an additional and extensive part of their dating repertoire and view it as more acceptable than older individuals, it may be the case that engagement with online dating will decrease as people age. On the other hand, the process of ageing may change the way people think about their lives and Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST) developed by Laura Carstensen proposes that as people age, the realisation that they are mortal becomes more apparent and they become more focused on their current rather than their longer term goals (Carstensen, 1992). Consequently, they will cease to be concerned about the possible stigma associated with online dating and will engage with it more as they age.
In order to investigate the issue of online dating engagement and age, Stephure, Boon, MacKinnon and Deveau (2009) looked at three different issues associated with online dating and how this related to age:
One hundred and seventy five respondents who ranged in age from 18 to 64 were asked about:
Demographic Factors such as age, gender and the number of hours they spent in chat rooms, or responding to personal ads.
Online Dating Activity such as asking whether respondents had posted or responded to an online personal ad and if so whether they had met someone face-to-face as a result of this.
Offline Dating Activity, with items such as ‘how satisfied are you with the traditional means of meeting people?’
Disclosure to their social networks such as having told family or friends that they use the internet as a means of meeting people, and the reactions of their friends and family to knowing that they use the internet to meet people.
The researchers firstly found that older individuals were more likely to respond to online personal ads, and also to report that they had met someone face-to-face who they had originally met online. Furthermore, the number of messages people reported sending increased with age, along with the time they spent involved in online dating. Finally, they also found a very modest relationship between age and the types of relationship people reported looking for in online dating, with older individuals being more likely to report using online dating to find marital and sexual partners. Overall, their findings suggest that not only are older adults more involved in online dating, but they are also more earnest in their endeavors.
Secondly, the researchers found age to be negatively related to satisfaction with face-to-face methods of meeting people, suggesting that as people age they become less satisfied with meeting people in person. Age was also negatively related to the number of offline methods people used to meet potential dates, again suggesting that as they get older people employ fewer face-to-face methods as a means for meeting. Furthermore, older people in this study were less likely than younger ones to say that they had met potential dates in clubs, bars or even via friends, but were more likely to say that they used newspaper ads in their dating endeavors. All of this is explained by the fact that older individuals find it more difficult to meet people through conventional means and therefore use online dating and personal ads in order to increase the number of chances they have of finding a date.
Finally it was found that over 70% of those who took part had told their friends and family that they were using online dating, indicating that the majority of people did not feel embarrassed by using online dating. However, there was no relationship between age and people’s decision to tell others.
The findings from this study reveal that overall, general involvement and satisfaction with online dating increases with age. But despite this, the prevalence of older age groups using online dating is much lower than for younger people. According to Pew Internet Research in 2016, this was 12% in the age group 55-64 and 3% in the age group over 65, compared with 27% of people in the age group 18-24. Therefore it seems that older individuals who use it tend to be satisfied, but utilize it less. It is entirely likely that older adults may be more likely to be divorced, separated or widowed than those who are younger, and this being the case, they may be likely to be more selective in who they choose as a romantic partner, perhaps because of adverse previous experiences. Where online dating is useful at an older age, is that it gives people the chance to eliminate those to whom they are not attracted early on, before meeting up.
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Alterovitz, S. S., & Mendelsohn, G. A. (2013). Relationship goals of middle-aged, young-old, and old-old internet daters: An analysis of online personal ads. Journal of Aging Studies, 27(2), 159-165.
Carstensen, L. L. (1992). ‘Motivation for Social Contact Across the Lifespan: A Theory of Socioemotional Selectivity’. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. 40: 209–54.
Stephure, R. J., Boon, S. D., MacKinnon, S. L., & Deveau, V. L. (2009) ‘Internet Initiated Relationships: Associations Between Age and Involvement in Online Dating’ Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 658-681.