February 09, 2019

Valentine's Day is Thursday — an excuse to catch up on the future of dating.

  • This week's Deep Dive — guided by Axios' Stef Kight, Jessie Li and Alison Snyder — explores how tech, business and society are transforming the search for a partner.

1 big thing: The gamification of courtship

Dating game: Harry Stevens and Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The gamification of courtship has gone global, from viral matchmaker shows in China to Tinder users who don't stop swiping even after finding love.

Apps are the new norm in dating. But the hyper-personalized, endless choices enabled by technology may actually be making it more difficult to meet "the one," Jessie Li writes:

  • TV series like "The Bachelor," China's "If You Are the One" and Britain's "Love Island" have played off cultural courting traditions to create popular, dramatic and competitive game shows.
  • In apps, the format of swiping can intensify pleasurable chemical reactions in the brain and the 'infinite scroll" persuades users to keep swiping.
  • With almost endless options for partners, dating has become about "fast sex, slow love," Helen Fisher, chief scientific adviser for Match.com, tells Axios.

The bottom line: In 2017, 39% of U.S. heterosexual relationships and 65% of same-sex relationships began online, according to Stanford research.

  • A cottage industry of services to write profiles, tend to matches and get swipes is popping up.
  • Some, like Relationship Hero, have coaches around the world, available 24/7 to text, call or even video chat through a user's dating woes.

Go deeper:

  • Click here to play the dating game shown in the GIF above. Collect hearts and kisses for points, but avoid the ghosts and broken hearts or the game is over.
  • Read the entire post.

2. Young, busy — and still single

More singles than ever are embracing a new life stage marked by budding careers, hip urban areas, adult roommates and more time to date, Stef Kight writes.

  • It's a global phenomenon: In Greece, Japan and Sweden the average age for women at childbirth has surpassed 30, up from around 27 in 1970, according to UN data.
  • In the U.S., it has risen to almost 27, per the CDC.

Go deeper: Read the entire post and our Deep Dive about falling fertility rates.

Bonus: Online dating is losing its stigma

Data: SurveyMonkey online poll; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

More than half of Americans who have used dating apps or sites said they had a positive view of online dating, according to a new Axios/Survey Monkey poll.

  • 72% said they think relationships that begin online are just as or more successful than those that begin offline.
  • Half of LGBQ people polled had a positive view of online dating.

But the stigma remains among those who have never used a dating app or site:

  • 65% of them had a negative view of online dating, and almost half said they think relationships are less successful if they begin online.

Go deeper: Read the entire post.

3. Facebook wants to be your matchmaker

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

With its 2.3 billion active users, Facebook is entering the online dating market, technology reporter Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

  • Why it matters: The company has been under fire for privacy and safety issues.

How it works: Unlike on some other apps, users can browse other profiles but don't have to match before starting a conversation — similar to what happens in real life when someone has to take a chance and make the first move.

  • The app is already available to some users in Canada, Colombia, and Thailand, with more countries planned for the near future. (Facebook wouldn't say where or when.)
  • What's new: Facebook will soon add the ability for users to share a date's location with friends, an idea generated from user feedback.

The big question: Will disenchanted users want to come back to Facebook for its dating service and share even more personal data about themselves?

  • Nathan Sharp, who heads Facebook’s dating product, says a user's dating profile will be separate from their main Facebook profile.

4. Video: The loneliness epidemic

Person swiping through profiles on a dating app.
Photo: Axios Video

We're lonelier than ever and are increasingly turning to matchmakers — both digital and human — to find companionship, Jessie Li and the Axios video team report.

  • By 2040, 70% of people are expected to meet through dating apps.

Watch the video.

5. The price we'll pay for a date

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Today’s dating app users are willing to pay for more options and control:

  • Match Group, parent company of Tinder, brought in $1.7 billion in revenue in 2018, with the app contributing nearly half of that ($805 million) via user subscriptions for premium features, Kia Kokalitcheva writes.
  • More than 97% of Match Group's revenue comes from subscriptions to its apps.

Unlike early online dating sites, most contemporary apps don’t charge users to send messages to vetted potential dates.

  • Instead, paid features align with their users' more casual dating habits — such as expressing interest in an unlimited number of suggested users, or changing their mind about someone they initially rejected.

6. Online dating's privacy problems

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Dating apps and sites collect a significant amount of consumer data — and where there's data, there are privacy breaches.

  • Why it matters: Dating apps and sites are party to some of our most intimate communications, writes technology reporter David McCabe.


  • An Axios investigation a year ago found that trackers were common on many online dating websites, including from third-party companies.
  • Privacy concerns can be particularly acute for members of marginalized groups that are more likely to use dating apps or face discrimination and harassment on the platforms. In April, Grindr said it would stop sharing users’ HIV statuses with third-party vendors.

7. The inhumanity of automated matchmaking

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Automated matchmaking is putting computers in charge of finding the perfect partner, but the algorithms may be quietly altering our own preferences, writes emerging technologies reporter Kaveh Waddell.

Advances in artificial intelligence plus the explosion of easily harvested personal data mean matching will only get more precise.

  • Hinge is using an algorithm developed in 1962 to find each user a "most compatible" match every day, based on their preferences and activity.
  • Tinder co-founder Sean Rad imagined in a 2017 Forbes interview a dating app that could find a user a "beautiful girl … down the street" with friends and interests in common, and automatically schedule a date when both are free.
  • And then there's sci-fi futures, in which matches could be based on genetics, or where millions of dates simulated in virtual reality could yield ideal real-world pairings.

Our thought bubble: If apps have a hidden hand in pairing up people, there's also a growing generation of children who owe their existence to an algorithm.

Go deeper: Read the entire post.

8. What dating apps are doing to fight discrimination

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Bias and discrimination among users can turn people away from dating apps, technology policy researcher Jevan Hutson writes for Axios.

Where it stands: Platforms are introducing features and policies to address the problem.

  • Tinder has expanded gender options and OkCupid lets users share gender pronouns.
  • Grindr launched new community guidelines and stricter enforcement of non-discrimination policies. But skepticism persists.

Go deeper: Read the entire post.