More than one-third of American couples are now meeting their romantic partners online and having more enduring and satisfying unions than those who meet in traditional venues, such as bars, nightclubs, and churches.

The emergence of the social Internet has forever changed the way Americans work, communicate, recreate, and procreate. Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has grown to more than a billion users while Twitter has grown from 2006 to more than half that. The 2011 American Time Use Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that men spend on average nearly 10 percent of their leisure time online, while women spend nearly eight percent doing the same. As technology improves, men and women — including same-sex couples — are meeting one another for romance and marriage less in traditional venues and increasingly more often online, by email for older adults and through social media and dating sites for younger Americans.

In a survey study of more than 19,000 Americans who married between 2005 and 2012, which would presumably include a preponderance of heterosexual couples, 92 percent remained married with nearly five percent divorced and another two percent separated. The couples who'd married during those years were generally representative of the population, researchers said, but among those more likely to meet spouses online were men, people in their 30s and 40s, Hispanics, those with higher socioeconomic statuses, and people with jobs.

However, the trend held up even after accounting for differences such as sex, age, education, ethnicity, household income, religious affiliation, and employment status — an increase across every segment of American society. These marriages were also found to more satisfying for couples, for those who stayed together.

"The majority of Americans still meet their spouse off-line, and among the off-line venues associated with high marital satisfaction are schools, growing up together, social gatherings, and places of worship, whereas among the venues associated with relatively low levels of marital satisfaction are bars and clubs, work, and blind dates," the researchers wrote.

But while marriages begun online tended to be longer lasting and more satisfying, researchers lacked the data to parse the quality of online meeting places, such as Facebook and Twitter versus dating sites such as eHarmony and Plenty of Fish. "Various online dating sites claim that their methods for pairing individuals produce more frequent, higher quality, or longer lasting marriages, but the evidence underlying the claims to date has not met conventional standards of scientific evidence..."

A couple of reasons may explain a higher quality of relationships that begin online, versus traditional meeting venues, including the more immediate process of discovery that comes with online interactions. "Laboratory research has shown that self-disclosures and affiliation are generally greater when strangers first meet online rather than face-to-face, and that the differences in self-disclosure can explain the differences," they wrote. "Among online dating sites, it is also possible that the various matching algorithms may play a role in marital outcomes."

And while the Internet perhaps enhances an institution dating back six millennia to ancient Mesopotamia, further study would track couples beyond the "seven-year itch" and even into the Golden Years, when grandchildren and great-grandchildren hear the story of

Source: Cacioppoa JT, Cacioppoa S, Gonzagab GG, Ogburnc EL,VanderWeelec TJ. Marital satisfaction and break-ups differ across on-lineand off-line meeting venues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2013.