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Americans Seek Companionship, Not Marriage, from Online Dating Sites

( - April 2, 2004) As the definition of marriage and its place in American life are being hotly debated across the nation, the popularity of online dating sites continues to surge. But that begs the question: what kind of relationships are Americans looking for online?

In a new nationwide survey conducted by market research firm Synovate for Userplane, Americans say they believe people who use dating Web sites to meet others are primarily looking for good times and steady companionship – not marriage. Userplane is a pioneer in applying video and audio instant messaging to support live communications for Web-based communities, including some 40 online dating sites.

In fact, regardless of race, gender, household income, marital status or region – in all but the key 18-24 demographic – Americans believe people are mostly looking for non-romantic companionship online. For that Net-savvy 18-24 age group, however, the casual fling’s the thing (36 percent, versus 32 percent for steady companionship, 20 percent for a committed relationship and only 3 percent for marriage). Overall, only 5.5 percent of those surveyed see marriage as a likely outcome of matches made online.

Conducted in March, the survey asked 1,000 Americans, “Whether or not you have ever used an online dating site, what do you think people are looking for most online?” Overall, 37 percent believe people are looking for good times and companionship. Slightly more than 23 percent of all respondents believe people are looking online for a committed relationship, with only a mere 5.5 percent believing marriage is the ultimate goal. By contrast, some 27 percent of respondents believe people who use online dating sites are simply looking for a fling.

“We’ve begun an interesting conversation in this country about marriage and relationships – at a time when the Internet has revolutionized the way we meet people and has expanded our community beyond our own backyard to include the entire wired world,” said Michael Jones, president of Userplane. “More and more people are using online dating Web sites and other types of online communities to meet people. This survey clearly shows that Americans see the value the Internet can offer in helping them meet people who share their interests, develop friendships and find companionship.”

Mars and Venus: Fling or Long-Term Relationship?
In the survey, the classic battle lines in the war of the sexes are drawn yet again; on a gender basis, men are more likely to select flings over romantic relationships as the reason to try online dating sites. Nearly 35 percent of males believe people are looking for flings on dating sites, compared with 19 percent of women. In contrast, 27 percent of women said a committed relationship is the goal, while only 19 percent of men agree. While for both groups the expectation of marriage ranks low, women are still almost twice as likely as men to say that it’s the reason people visit dating sites (7 percent versus 3.7 percent, respectively).

White males 18 to 24 with a high school education or less are most likely to view the Internet as a place to find a fling. Non-whites, women and those with post-graduate degrees prefer to see online dating sites as potential sources for a committed relationship -- or, to a lesser extent, marriage.

Perhaps predictably, the younger you are, the more you see the Internet as a place to find a fling. While more than 36 percent of 18-24 year olds say a fling is the reason people use Internet dating sites, just 22 of those over 65 agree. Those between 55 and 64 are more likely than any other age segment to look for a committed relationship (27 percent), where those 35 to 44 cited marriage more than any other age group.

Those who live in the West were less likely than those in other regions of the country to believe people are online to find committed relationships (19 percent, compared with 26 percent in the Northeast, 25.5 percent in the Midwest and 23 percent in the South), but they were more likely to say people are looking for marriage (7 percent, compared with 5 percent for the rest of the country).

Other key findings:

· Wandering eyes? Married respondents were slightly more likely than their non-married counterparts to believe that people are primarily looking for flings online (28.4 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively).

· Friendship reigns. Interestingly, those 65 and over share something in common with part-time workers, whatever their age. More than the other demographic groups, seniors and part-timers are most likely to value making friendships online, with an identical 43.5 percent saying people visit online dating sites for good times and steady companionship.

· A racial split. Whites are twice as likely as non-whites to regard the Internet as a place to find a fling (28 percent and 14 percent, respectively), where non-whites are more than twice as likely as whites to seek a marriage partner online (12 percent versus 5 percent).

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