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First Comes Tinder. Then Comes Marriage?

By Sophia Kercher

Serge Bloch

For some of us, the dating app Tinder suggests a slot machine for sex, a game for singles featuring one too many bathroom selfies.

For Casey Napolitano, a real estate agent in Los Angeles, Tinder is synonymous with love.

Napolitano met her husband, John Napolitano, on the app during her first and only Tinder date. She “swiped right” on a photo of John in a tuxedo giving a speech at a wedding. “It just really turned me on,” she said. Six months later, they bought a house together; a few months later, they were engaged. They have been married for two years now and have a 14-month-old.

“Our baby girl is perfect,” the proud new father said.

The Napolitanos’ love story isn’t isolated. According to Jessica Carbino, Tinder’s on-site sociologist who pores over Tinder’s data, more people than ever are committing to relationships thanks to the app, which will have its fifth anniversary in September.

In a report released this week, Tinder conducted two surveys comparing its users with offline daters. (Offline daters fell into three groups: people who have never dated online, people who had dated online in the past but no longer did, and people who had never used online dating but were open to the possibility.)

According to Carbino, the findings indicate that Tinder users are more likely to be looking for a committed relationship than are offline daters. She said that the surveys revealed that Tinder users were doing a better job than offline daters of signaling “investment in prospective daters” by asking them questions when originally contacting them, and that they are 5 percent more likely to say “I love you” to their partners in the first year of dating.

The survey also reveals that while 30 percent of men who are not dating online say it is “challenging to commit,” only 9 percent of male Tinder users say they find it difficult to maintain a committed relationship. The results were roughly similar for women.

“When you are dating online, you actually have a very clear idea of what the marketplace is like,” Carbino said. “You are able to have a visual idea of the pool in front of you, whereas the people who aren’t dating online are simply speculating as to what the pool may be like.”

The report looked at a survey administered via the app to 7,072 Tinder users, ages 18 to 36, and a second survey of 2,502 offline daters, ages 18 to 35, conducted by Morar Consulting.

While the surveys were commissioned by Tinder, Carbino said her position as a social scientist was to provide a valid and realistic view of the world.

“The realistic view might not provide what the company wants,” she said, “however it’s my responsibility to do so and provide data that is accurate.”

It is unclear whether the surveys sampled similar and representative demographics, a fact that Jennifer Lundquist, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst who researches online dating, said indicated that more studies were needed to determine if Tinder’s surveys were accurate.

“One issue with the non-online dating comparison group is that given how normalised and destigmatised online dating has become for this age group, it’s unusual not to participate in online dating,” Lundquist said. As a result, she said, the offline daters “may be a weirdly skewed group, or as sociologists would say negatively select."

Lundquist also questioned the motivations for the survey, pointing to the anecdotal belief among many daters that Tinder’s picture-based feature leads it to be a “hookup” app rather than a mechanism for finding long-term partners.

"It seems like Tinder is trying to work on their image with this survey,” she said.

But despite Tinder’s aims, and researchers’ varying methods, the app’s conclusions about the desire of online daters to commit may not be unfounded. In a 2012 report on a study by the sociologists Michael Rosenfeld and Reuben J. Thomas published in the American Sociological Review, the researchers found that couples who meet online are no more likely to break up than couples who meet offline. Rosenfeld’s continuing research at Stanford University concludes that couples who meet online transition to marriage more quickly than those who meet offline. (The cohort of couples he studied met in 2009, before Tinder was founded; he is currently gathering data that include users of the app.)

Still, it is unclear whether Tinder’s surveys, even bolstered by larger trends in online dating, will shift the public’s perception of the app. It does not help that in a recent article in The California Sunday Magazine, Tinder’s founder and chairman, Sean Rad, admitted to sexting, or sending sexually explicit messages, with Snapchat users. But perhaps Carbino, who scours Tinder daily, sees what others can’t: humans trying their best to connect. She is single and said she had found, and lost, love on Tinder.