August 20, 2020

Nearly Half of U.S. Adults Say Dating Has Gotten Harder for Most People in the Last 10 Years

3. Public attitudes about today’s dating landscape

More than half of women say dating has gotten harder in the last 10 yearsNearly half of Americans think dating has gotten harder in the last 10 years – especially women, who are much more likely than men to say dating now comes with more risk. Many think the recent increased focus on sexual harassment and assault has made it harder to know how to behave on dates, particularly for men.

It’s safe to say that cultural norms around sex and dating have loosened over the years. Still, some practices are considered taboo by many Americans. For example, while most adults say premarital sex is acceptable, only about one-third say the same about open relationships – that is, a committed relationship where both people agree that it is acceptable to date or have sex with other people.

And while options for how to break up with someone have expanded as people are connected through many different platforms, most still say breaking up in person is the way to go.

Almost half of the public says dating has gotten harder in the last 10 years

Nearly half of U.S. adults (47%) say dating is harder today for most people compared with 10 years ago, while a third say it is about the same and 19% say it’s easier today.

Women are much more likely than men to say dating has gotten harder (55% vs. 39%). Black women (62%) are more likely than Hispanic women (50%) to say dating has gotten harder, while 55% of White women say the same. Only 9% of Black women say dating has gotten easier in the last decade, compared with 14% of White women and 27% of Hispanic women.

Overall, 54% of Black, 48% of White and 42% of Hispanic adults say dating has gotten harder. Hispanics (31%) are about twice as likely as White (16%) or Black (14%) adults to say dating is now easier.

In every age group except for those 65 and older, more say dating is harder today than say it’s easier or the same as it was 10 years ago. Adults 65 and older are about as likely to say it’s gotten harder (43%) as they are to say it’s about the same as it was (40%). Adults younger than 50 are more likely than those who are older to say dating has gotten easier in the last 10 years: 27% of those ages 18 to 29 and 21% of those ages 30 to 49 say it has gotten easier, compared with 15% each of those 50 to 64 and 65 and older.

People who are in a committed relationship but not married or living with their partner (57%) or are currently on the dating market (54%) are more likely than their counterparts who are married or living with a partner (46%) or single but not looking for a relationship or dates (40%) to say dating is harder. Among singles who are on the dating market, those who are looking for a committed relationship only are more likely to say dating is harder now (62%) than those who are open to casual dates or only looking for casual dates (50%).

Increased physical and emotional risk is commonly cited as a reason dating has gotten harder; many say technology has made dating easier

Women are twice as likely as men to say dating is harder than 10 years ago because it’s riskier nowAmong the 47% of Americans who say dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago, the increased risk of dating today – including physical risk as well as the risk of getting scammed or lied to – stands out as the most-often-cited reason why dating is harder (21% cite this). Roughly one-in-ten point to technology (12%), the idea that dating has become more impersonal (10%) or that it’s harder to meet people now (10%), the more casual nature of dating today (9%), or changing societal expectations, morals or gender roles (8%). A slightly smaller share (5%) blame the difficulty of dating on people being busier these days.

Women are twice as likely as men (26% vs. 13%) to say increased risk is a reason dating is harder now. They are also more likely than men to say that it’s harder now because dating has become more casual (11% vs. 6%). For their part, men are somewhat more likely to say technology is a reason (15% vs. 10%).

Older adults are more likely to see increased risk as a reason dating is harder now: 23% of those 65 and older and 30% of those 50 to 64 point to increased risk, compared with 16% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 13% of adults younger than 30.

There is no significant difference between those with online dating experience and those who have never used online dating when it comes to whether technology is a reason dating is harder now.

When it comes to why dating has gotten easier in the last 10 years, technology tops the list. Among the 19% of respondents who say dating is now easier, about four-in-ten (41%) say technology is a reason. This is followed by 29% who say it is easier to meet people now and 10% who say that changing societal expectations, morals and gender roles have made it easier to date.

Men and women who say dating has gotten easier give similar reasons for this. There are also no significant differences by age.

Technology is far more likely to be mentioned by those who say dating has gotten easier than by those who say it’s gotten harder. About two-thirds (66%) of those who say dating is now easier either point to technology in general or otherwise mention technology in their answer, compared with 31% of those who say dating is now harder.

A plurality says online dating has had a neither positive nor negative effect on dating and relationships

When it comes to the impact online dating sites and apps have had on the broader landscape of dating and relationships these days, half of adults say it has been neither positive nor negative. The remainder of the public is divided: 22% say online dating has had a mostly positive impact while 26% say it has been mostly negative.

Those who have experience with online dating (29%) are more likely than those who don’t (21%) to say online dating has had a positive impact on dating and relationships overall, although minorities in both groups say this is the case. Similar shares of those who have online dated and those who haven’t say the impact has been negative.

Those who met their current partner online are much more likely than those who met their partner in some other way to say online dating’s impact has been positive (40% vs. 21%).

Most say it’s harder for men to know how to behave on dates in the era of the #MeToo movement

The public sees challenges for men dating in the era of #MeToo Most Americans say it has become harder for men to know how to interact with someone they’re on a date with due to the increased focus on sexual harassment and assault over the last few years. Some 65% say this, while 9% say this focus has made it easier for men and 24% say it hasn’t made much difference. Opinions are more mixed when it comes to the impact on women. Fewer than half (43%) say it is harder for women to know how to behave on dates as a result of the attention paid to sexual harassment and assault, while 17% say this has made it easier for women and 38% say it hasn’t made much of a difference.

Men and women see eye to eye on the impact the #MeToo movement has had on women, but men (69%) are more likely than women (61%) to say this increased focus on sexual harassment and assault has made it harder for men to know how to interact – though most in each group agree it has made it harder.

Across demographic groups, majorities say it’s harder for men to know how to act in the #MeToo eraOlder people are more likely than younger adults to see challenges for men dating in the era of #MeToo. For example, 72% of those ages 65 and older say it is now harder for men to know how to interact with someone they’re on a date with, compared with 66% of those 50 to 64, 62% of those 30 to 49 and 58% of those 18 to 29. Older men are particularly likely to say this – 75% of those 50 and older say it is now harder for men to know how to behave, compared with 63% of men younger than 50 and 58% of younger women. Some 63% of women age 50 and older say the same.

Older adults are also more likely to say it is now harder for women to know how to behave with someone they’re on a date with, but men and women have roughly the same opinions across age groups.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the recent focus on sexual harassment and assault has made it harder for both men (75% vs. 56%) and women (49% vs. 38%) to know how to act. Republican men are particularly likely to say it has become harder for men (81%, compared with 69% of Republican women). Among Democrats, men and women are equally likely to say this.

Older Democrats are more likely than younger Democrats to say it is harder for men to know how to act in the era of #MeToo (61% of Democrats ages 50 and older compared with 53% of Democratic adults younger than 50). However, there is no significant difference by age among Republicans about whether it has become harder for men.

Among single people, those who are currently on the dating market (64%) are more likely than singles who are not looking for a relationship or dates (56%) to say that it is harder for men to know how to act now.

Whether or not someone has experienced any kind of harassing behaviors from someone they dated or were on a date with (such as being pressured for sex or someone they were dating spreading rumors about their sexual history) does not appear to influence views on this topic. This is true among both men and women.

Most say premarital sex is acceptable behavior, while sex on a first date and open relationships are taboo for most people

A majority of the public says premarital sex is at least sometimes acceptableRoughly half of adults (48%) say having an open relationship – that is, a committed relationship where both people agree that it is acceptable to date or have sex with other people – is never acceptable, regardless of whether they would do it themselves. An additional 20% say it is rarely acceptable and 32% say it is acceptable either sometimes or always.

Other sexual and dating practices are generally seen as more acceptable, at least in some circumstances. About half (49%) say it is at least sometimes acceptable for consenting adults to exchange sexually explicit images of themselves. Most say casual sex between consenting adults not in a committed relationship (62%) and sex between unmarried adults who are in a committed relationship (65%) can be acceptable. Still, about a quarter of the public sees casual sex (24%) or premarital sex (25%) as never acceptable.

Large age gaps in views of dating normsAdults of different ages view some of these norms in drastically different ways. When it comes to exchanging sexually explicit photos of oneself, young adults ages 18 to 29 are more than three times as likely as those 65 and older to say this is always or sometimes acceptable (70% compared with 21%).

Some 46% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 40% of 30- to 49-year-olds say open relationships are acceptable. By contrast, 22% of 50- to 64-year-olds and 17% of those 65 and older say the same.

While the differences are less dramatic, younger adults are also significantly more accepting of premarital sex and casual sex than their older counterparts. Still, majorities of all age groups say that premarital sex is acceptable.

While men and women see eye to eye on premarital sex, men are much more likely than women to find casual sex (70% vs. 55%) and exchanging explicit images of oneself (57% vs. 41%) acceptable always or sometimes. And while a minority of both men and women say open relationships are acceptable, men (35%) are more accepting than women (29%).

Adults with a college degree or more education are more likely than those with some college experience or less to see each of these items as acceptable. The same is true of Democrats and those who lean to the Democratic Party compared with Republicans and Republican leaners. In fact, Democrats are twice as likely to say open relationships are acceptable (42%, compared with 21% of Republicans).

Large gaps also exist between those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and those who identify as straight. LGB adults were the only demographic group studied in which a majority say that having an open relationship is always or sometimes acceptable (61%, compared with 29% of straight adults). A large majority also says that two consenting adults exchanging sexually explicit images of themselves is acceptable at least sometimes (74% of LGB adults vs. 47% of their straight counterparts). Majorities of both groups say that premarital and casual sex are acceptable, but LGB adults again are significantly more likely to say this.

When it comes to the acceptability of each of these dating norms, the differences between Democrats and Republicans and between LGB and straight adults remain even after controlling for demographic differences between the groups, such as age, race and religiosity.

Most say it’s usually necessary to ask for permission before kissing someone on a date

Respondents were also asked whether it was acceptable to kiss someone on a date without asking for permission first. Most (60%) say this is rarely or never acceptable (including 36% who say it is never acceptable), while 39% say it can be acceptable at least sometimes.

Men and women and people of all ages are about equally likely to say kissing without asking permission is never acceptable. Black adults (57%), however, are much more likely to say this is never acceptable, compared with 31% of White and 39% of Hispanic adults. Democrats and those with some college or less education are also more likely to think that kissing without asking permission is never acceptable.

Relatively few adults say having sex on a first date is acceptable

There is some disagreement about what sort of behavior is appropriate on a first date. While nearly all of the public thinks it’s acceptable at least sometimes to hug on a first date, there is some gray area when it comes to kissing, and relatively few say having sex is acceptable on a first date (regardless of whether they would do it themselves).

About four-in-ten adults say having sex on the first date is never acceptableFully 95% of adults say that giving a hug would be acceptable always or sometimes on a first date, including 56% who say it is always acceptable. Most also say kissing is acceptable (72%), but far fewer say this is always acceptable (15%).

When it comes to sex on the first date, 30% say this is always or sometimes acceptable. Meanwhile 27% say it’s rarely acceptable and 42% say it is never acceptable.

Men are more likely than women to see each of these behaviors as acceptable on a first date, but the gender gap is especially wide when it comes to having sex. About four-in-ten men (39%) say having sex on a first date can be acceptable at least sometimes, compared with 21% of women.

Men much more likely than women to find sex on a first date acceptableThe difference between younger and older Americans is also widest when it comes to sex. While roughly four-in-ten adults ages 18 to 29 (42%) and 30 to 49 (38%) say having sex on a first date is always or sometimes acceptable, the shares are much lower among 50- to 64-year-olds (21%) and those 65 and older (13%). Adults younger than 50 are also more likely than their older counterparts to say that giving a hug and kissing on a first date are acceptable, but the differences are much smaller.

Democrats and Republicans mostly see eye to eye on whether hugging and kissing are acceptable on a first date, but Democrats (38%) are more likely than Republicans (21%) to say having sex is acceptable at least sometimes.

LGB adults are more likely than their straight counterparts to say kissing on a first date is acceptable, though large shares in each group say this (79% vs. 72%). And LGB adults much more likely than those who are straight to say the same about having sex (52% vs. 27%).

Breaking up with someone through technology, ‘ghosting’ are largely seen as unacceptable

Breaking up in person is largely seen as the only acceptable way to end a committed relationshipThough people have been ending romantic relationships in impersonal ways at least since the advent of the Dear John letter, the countless new ways of communicating with romantic partners have brought up concerns that breaking up through technology may become the new norm. But despite the role technology plays in dating and relationships these days, most people say breaking up in person is the only acceptable way to do it – even with casual dating partners.

Nearly all U.S. adults (97%) say it is at least sometimes acceptable to break up in person with someone they are in a committed relationship with, including 88% who say this is always acceptable. By contrast, about half (51%) say it can be acceptable to break up through a phone call at least sometimes, with only 10% saying this is always acceptable. Much smaller shares say it is at least sometimes acceptable to break up through a text message (14%), email (14%) or a private message on a social media site (11%). In fact, majorities say each of those methods of ending a committed relationship are never acceptable.

Men are somewhat more likely than women to say ending a committed relationship over the phone can be acceptable (55% vs. 47%), but otherwise men and women mostly agree on these break-up norms.

Adults younger than 50 are more likely than those who are older to say it’s at least sometimes acceptable to break up through a phone call (57% vs. 43%), text message (16% vs. 11%) or social media private message (15% vs. 8%). There is no difference by age in whether it is acceptable to break up via email.

Most agree that breaking up in person is preferable even when it’s only a casual relationship

Few say breaking up online with a casual partner is acceptableWhen asked the same question, but about a person breaking up with someone they are casually dating, the results are strikingly similar to those about ending a committed relationship.

Again, the vast majority (97%) say it’s at least sometimes acceptable to break up in person. Breaking up with a casual partner over the phone is seen as somewhat more acceptable than ending a committed relationship over the phone (64% vs. 51%), but still only a small share say this is always acceptable.

About one-in-five adults say it is always or sometimes acceptable to break up with a casual partner by text message (22%), email (20%) or social media private message (20%).

The patterns of gender and age differences are largely the same for breaking up with a casual partner and ending a committed relationship.

Only about one-in-ten single-and-looking adults say they would ‘ghost’ someone they didn’t want to see again

Despite apocryphal warnings of “ghosting,” or suddenly stopping answering phone calls or messages without explanation, few people on the dating market say they would do this after a first date. Only 8% say they would do this, compared with 40% who say they would contact the person and let them know they didn’t want to go out again. About half (52%) say they wouldn’t proactively contact the person but would let them know they weren’t interested if the person tried to get in touch.

Single-and-looking men are split on whether they would contact the person after the first date and let them know (47%) or wait for the other person to contact them before letting them know (also 47%). Meanwhile, women on the dating market are much more likely to say they would only let the other person know if they got in touch first (59%) than say they would reach out to let the person know (30%).

Young singles on the dating market – those ages 18 to 29 – are more likely than their older counterparts to say they would take the direct approach by proactively contacting the person. About half in this age group (49%) say this, compared with 37% of daters ages 30 to 49 and 34% of those 50 and older.