NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - People who have Internet access at home are more likely to be in a relationship, with the Web gaining in importance as a meeting place for those seeking love, according to U.S. research.
Researchers from Stanford University said the Internet is especially important for bringing together same-sex couples and may soon replace friends as the main way in which Americans meet their partners.
"Although prior research on the social impacts of Internet use has been rather ambiguous about the social cost of time spent online, our research suggests that Internet access has an important role to play in helping Americans find mates," said Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology.
The study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Atlanta on Monday, showed that 82.2 percent of people in the study who had Internet access at home also had a spouse or romantic partner, compared to 62.8 percent for those who did not have Internet access.
The study used data from a winter 2009 survey of 4,002 adults across the United States. Slightly more than 3,000 had a spouse or romantic partner.
Rosenfeld and Reuben Thomas, of the City University of New York, found the Internet is the one social arena that is unambiguously gaining importance as a place where couples meet.
"It is possible that in the next several years the Internet could eclipse friends as the most influential way Americans meet their romantic partners, displacing friends out of the top position for the first time since the early 1940s," Rosenfeld said in a statement.
The researchers said they found that the Internet was especially important for finding potential partners in groups where the supply is small or difficult to identify such as in the gay, lesbian, and middle-aged heterosexual communities.
Rosenfeld said that among the couples who met within two years of the survey, 61 percent of same-sex couples and 21.5 percent of heterosexual couples met online.
"Couples who meet online are much more likely to be same-sex couples, and somewhat more likely to be from different religious backgrounds," Rosenfeld said.
Writing by Belinda Goldsmith