There was a time when flirting on Facebook usually meant “poking”.

But as of this year, Facebook is now a fully-fledged contender in online dating, following the rollout of its namesake dating service.

After its recent launch in the U.S., Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe described Facebook’s foray into the new territory as ”validating”.

If the internet giant feels it’s worth making a play into, then it seems like online dating is here to stay – and perhaps grow even further.

In the wake of Facebook’s launch, we took the opportunity to analyze the state of online dating in 2019, with a view on who does it, what motivates them, and what the industry’s future may hold. 

The online dating pool

In our latest wave of data, 38% of singletons use online dating apps or websites, making them almost as popular as podcasts. 

Online dating ages

But more than most online activities we track, there is a clear bias in user numbers towards men. Men comprise 64% of the 16-64s dating pool online, outnumbering women by almost 2 to 1.

This ratio is reflected in most dating apps, though the more female-focused Bumble actually has women in the majority. 

Location-based apps tend to get the limelight for online dating, not least because the average age of an online dater is 26 (though this has been increasing gradually over time).

Unsurprisingly, we often find younger users are fluent and comfortable with doing things on smartphones, while older users are more wedded to PCs.

For online dating, this trend generally holds water. But it’s not the be-all and end-all; our research shows 35% of 16-24s still use a PC/laptop to access a dating service, and almost half of 55-64s use a mobile. 

As with much of the online landscape, dating is a multi-device activity. It’s not just about swiping on-the-go.

Online dating LGB community

And adoption of online dating largely depends on what kind of partner you’re looking for.

For example, the LGB community are particularly keen users of dating services, as our data shows while 29% of self-identifying heterosexuals use online dating, this rises to just under half of self-identifying homosexuals.

Getting ready to mingle

Understanding device habits is one way dating services can grow beyond typically young and urban singletons. But another is understanding the characteristics of daters within each age group.

We can do this by analyzing online daters against our 65 attitudinal data points, getting a more rounded understanding of who they are and the dating apps that may represent them.

In each case, we can understand how online daters differ from their peers by looking at their top over-indexes. 

Facebook is joining an already crowded market, and the saturation in it has led many dating services to roll out their first international branding campaigns in an attempt to stand out from the crowd.

So what makes singles different from non-singles, and what makes singles in different age brackets tick?

Understanding these nuances is a vital part of providing the most resonant message to potential new users. 

As we outlined earlier, younger daters – as with pretty much everything they do online – are comfortable and fluent finding potential partners through a mobile. 

Two-thirds of young daters say the internet makes them feel closer to people, so they’re accustomed to using online spaces as intimate social environments.

But they also over-index for thinking that technology makes life complicated, and for feeling they don’t fully understand technology. They may be tech-fluent, but feel some ambivalence about it as well.

When we get to middle-aged internet users, we unearth some quite interesting findings.

Online daters in this age group see themselves as more “spontaneous” compared to others the same age, are more likely to want to work abroad, to say they make decisions based on gut feeling, and say that other people describe them as adventurous.

Possibly due to changes in life circumstances, this cohort is more impulsive than often described. Perhaps the most striking thing when we get to baby boomers is their concern about personal data.

Three-quarters of baby boomers using dating services are worried about how companies use their personal data, so bringing them on board to dating services will require particular transparency around how their data is used. 

Bridging the old and the new

As executives in the matchmaking industry have commented, the competition for online dating isn’t as much from other apps, but from other kinds of socializing, and different social circles; whether it’s meeting people at a bar, through friends of friends, or on other social platforms online. 

On the other hand, much of the commentary around Facebook’s move suggests that, with social media becoming less of a strictly social experience, the timing may be poor for such a move.

Our data shows that this trend is more nuanced, as online daters are a bit of an exception. They continue to use social media to meet new people, and so a dating layer on top of a social network may reap rewards for them and Facebook alike. 

All of this makes Facebook’s entrance into the dating circuit so intriguing.

For the first time a dating service is being built on top of a pre-existing social graph.

Facebook gets valuable access to shared data like personal interests and events – increasing the chances of a good match – and the power to let users distinguish friends from potential partners.

But crucially, it will need to convince users that it’s a secure and effective place to meet new people. 

As Facebook make waves in yet another industry, the dating landscape presents a compelling picture. There’s considerable potential to grow the market into older age groups and in markets around the world.

But, with dating and romance so grounded in cultural norms, understanding the distinctions between different groups of daters is a key part of bringing new users on board.

And with users increasingly retreating from the more social activities on social media, Facebook will have to work hard to make sure its daters engage. 

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Written by

Chris is a Senior Trends Analyst at GlobalWebIndex. Moving to the company in 2017 after working in publishing, he produces blogs, infographics and reports on the most pressing topics in the worlds of technology, marketing, and many others.

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