Disintermediating your friends
You would think that whilst financial markets can change rapidly, social change takes place more gradually. This academic paper challenges that notion in an important area – how people of opposite sexes meet each other and enter a relationship specifically in the USA: “We present new data from a nationally representative 2017 survey of American adults. For heterosexual couples in the U.S., meeting online has become the most popular way couples meet, eclipsing meeting through friends for the first time around 2013. Moreover, among the couples who meet online, the proportion who have met through the mediation of third persons has declined over time. We find that Internet meeting is displacing the roles that family and friends once played in bringing couples together.”
Until 15 years ago, most American couples met via friends and family and this was thought to be a perfectly rational thing to do. “The traditional system of dating, mediated by friends and family, has long been theorized to be optimal for mate selection. The family system is historically predicated, in part, on catalyzing and promoting the most socially acceptable mating outcomes for the younger generation (Rosenfeld 2007). Meeting through friends and family provided guarantees that any potential partner had been personally vetted and vouched for by trusted alters. Classic work by Bott (1957) found that social closure had benefits in terms of relationship quality and duration.”
The internet however has displaced friends and family in terms of how couples meet: “Despite the traditional advantages of meeting face‐to‐face through connections established by friends and family, the potential technological benefits of online dating are numerous as well (Cacioppo et al. 2013; Rosenfeld 2017), and are described below. Our Hypothesis 1 is that the percentage of heterosexual couples meeting online will have continued to grow beyond the previously identified 2005‐2009 plateau of 22%.”
Interestingly, that does NOT necessarily mean that marriages in America will become more heterogenous. “The broad dissemination of land line telephones in the US in the early 20th century, made it easier for Americans to stay in touch with relatives from out of town, but it did not change who interacted with whom. Most telephone calls were made to people one already knew (Fischer 1994)… Research on technology as reinforcing existing face‐to‐face social ties leads to our Hypothesis 2: Any rise in Internet dating will reinforce rather than displace the intermediary roles of friends and family.”
That being said the authors contend that going forward the internet might well replace conventional social networks and thus lead to people choosing their mates from a broader network of people: “There are several potential reasons why the ascendency of Internet dating might displace friends and family, despite the expectations of Hypothesis 2. First, the sets of people connected to Tinder, Match, and eHarmony are larger than the sets of people connected to one’s mother or friend. Larger choice sets are valuable to everyone engaged in search (Rosenfeld 2017). Larger choice sets are especially valuable for people who are searching for something unusual or hard‐to‐find, which is why online dating is even more valuable for gays and lesbians than it is for heterosexuals (Rosenfeld and Thomas 2012)…. Dating perfect strangers encountered online is potentially more discreet than dating a friend’s friend.”
It would be incredibly interesting if someone could do research of this kind on the Indian marriage market. Companies like Matrimony and Jeevansathi are sitting on goldmines of data which could be analysed to assess which of the hypothesis outlined above are more relevant for India.