How The Internet May Have Increased Young Marriages 14%

As millions of 20-somethings defy the age-old tradition of young marriage for another decade of baby-less romance, one study suggests that the Internet is responsible for boosting holy matrimony 14% among 21-30-year-olds. In a deliciously dry economic assessment of romantic partnering, University of Montreal Professor Andriana Bellou finds a surprisingly strong relationship between broadband Internet penetration, dating website use, and youngins gettin’ hitched. “Exploring sharp temporal and geographic variation in the pattern of consumer broadband adoption, I find that the latter has significantly contributed to increased marriages rates among 21-30 year olds,” she writes [PDF].

Two graphs, in particular, help explain the boost in digitally facilitated permanent hookups (the first figure is a poll of spouses the second figure the linear trend between broadband and marriage)

marriage-and-internet (1)

Econometrics For Novices

How do we know these marriages wouldn’t have happened anyways, regardless of whether residents had Internet access? Internet service providers roll broadband around the U.S. for mostly business purposes, provided that local bureaucrats don’t make deploying it a regulatory nightmare. Unless regulators were snuggling with young lovers as they teased their marriage intentions with each other, there’s no reason to believe broadband deployment was following regions ripe for lots of marriage.

So, if we see a see a spike in marriage rates in only states with ubiquitous broadband penetration, the Internet is probably playing some role (econometricians call this an Instrumental Variable). Of regions with similar composition in race, socioeconomic status, population density, unemployment, and age, the author finds the Internet is associated with a sizable 13-30% boost in first-time marriages.

The Hottest Marriage Talk You Can Handle

Readers can imagine how an available pool of hot-and-heavy eager singles facilitates marriage, but the way in which an economist describes romance may just be the hottest thing ever. Nestle an ice-pack between your legs, because this is NSFW.

1. Dating sites increase the chance you’ll find your one true love.

“In a basic infinite horizon search model, individuals search for suitable marriage partners and receive offers drawn from some known distribution. Search continues until a partner is found whose “quality” equals or exceeds an endogenously determined reservation value…Standard search theory predicts that, all else equal, higher search costs lower the reservation value and increase the probability of marriage”

2. It’s hard to meet people in a new city.

“In an offline, decentralized environment searching for a suitable partner can be a lengthy process accompanied by uncertainty regarding match quality and psychological costs associated with personal encounters and potential rejections. An online centralized marriage market instead has the potential to resolve a number of these issues. This is because it allows for targeted search along certain desirable characteristics while the users retain a degree of anonymity”

3. Sometimes, a girl just needs to be asked.

“greater exposure to potential mates will increase the frequency of offers and therefore the likelihood of marriage”

4. Yo, it’s a sausage fest out there.

“The potential of the Internet to affect matching is probably the greatest for those perceived as facing thinner markets or those who experience difficulties in meeting potential mates”

A Word of Caution

A few cautionary notes before we all hail as the savior of the institution of marriage.

First, these are a percentage of a percentage. Marriage rates increased about 5% for 21-30 year olds, but it went from 0.36 to .412, or a 14% relative increase. This jibes with a 2005 Pew Poll which found that 5% of all marriages began online.

Second, this study says nothing of the quality of the marriage. As I personally investigated, hyper-focused romantic searchers are a mixed blessing. Sometimes we find that the person we thought we wanted is actually the worst possible match.

The truth is, the Internet is probably playing some role in boosting marriage. Speaking as a guy who is part of the new 20-something trend of moving away from home and delaying domestic life to focus on career, online dating helps me sort through the sea of strangers. Now, if it could only make those first dates a little less awkward. Get on it, Internet!