Chapter 12: Studying mate choice using digital trace data from online dating
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Online dating - once being a niche - has become a significant social-digital technology and a major venue for couple formation today. While some social research has been busy with understanding the individual and societal impact of online dating, other research sought to exploit ‘big data’ generated through the process of online dating usage to gain new scientific insights into aspects of mate search and choice. Treating the latter, this chapter takes stock of social science studies that have collected and used digital trace data from online dating to examine micro-mechanisms of assortative mating between men and women. After a brief methodological analysis of digital trace data, the chapter surveys peer-reviewed material from the past 15 years of research and organises study findings into (1) general mate seeking and contacting behaviour, (2) the social structure of digital dating markets, and, in interaction with gender, the role of the social stratification dimensions of (3) education, (4) age, and (5) race. Furthermore, the chapter illustrates arguments with some first-hand empirical data from online dating. Finally, the consequences of online dating for union formation and assortative mating are addressed. The chapter concludes with an outlook for future online dating research.

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