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Online vs. offline dating: New B.C. research shows how you meet impacts who you meet

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A new study out of B.C. is shedding light on how online dating is impacting not only how people meet – but who they end up with.

Sociology professor Yue Qian notes that one of the first things people ask couples they encounter is: How did you meet? Her research starts with that question too.

“My research aims to examine how couples meet and the influence of how couples meet on the type of partners they can find,” she tells CTV News.

Qian has interviewed a lot of online daters and become familiar with some of the drawbacks of digital platforms. But her study offers a different perspective for romance-seekers by drawing attention to some of the potential benefits.

“A lot of people did complain to me about how tiring and sometimes frustrating it is to use online dating,” she told CTV News.

“One of the greatest benefits of online dating is that it broadens the pool we can access to find potential partners.”

Her research, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, looked at how heterosexual couples meet and how that impacts partner choice, specifically when it comes to age, race, education and immigration.

When people are introduced to a partner through family, friends or otherwise “offline,” Qian says they tend to meet and end up with people from similar backgrounds.

“This really speaks to how segregated our social network can be,” she said.

Online dating, the research showed, was more likely to produce couples with different backgrounds. Specifically, couples who met online were more likely to see an immigrant paired with someone who was born in Canada and people with different levels of education coupling up. People who meet in person were also more likely to be of the same race.

While offline dating tended to result in couples where an older man was paired with a younger woman, couples who met online were likely to be closer in age.

“Online dating could potentially open a wider world of diverse partners to us,” Qian said, adding that her research is consistent with research done in countries like the U.S., Germany and Switzerland.

“This Valentine's Day, it might not be a bad idea to embrace this possibility.”

For anyone concerned that the research paints online dating in too positive a light, Qian notes that it was funded by a government grant and not by an app or tech company. 

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