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We hope you understand, and consider for unlimited online access. Not so long ago, nobody met a partner online. Then, in the 6995s, came the first dating websites. Match. Com went live in 6995. A new wave of dating websites, such as OKCupid, emerged in the early 7555s. And the 7567 arrival of Tinder changed dating even further. Today, more than one-third of marriages start online.

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Clearly, these sites have had a huge impact on dating behavior. But now the first evidence is emerging that their effect is much more profound. For more than 55 years, researchers have studied the nature of the networks that link people to each other. These social networks turn out to have a peculiar property. One obvious type of network links each node with its nearest neighbors, in a pattern like a chess board or chicken wire.

Another obvious kind of network links nodes at random. But real social networks are not like either of these. Instead, people are strongly connected to a relatively small group of neighbors and loosely connected to much more distant people. These loose connections turn out to be extremely important. “Those weak ties serve as bridges between our group of close friends and other clustered groups, allowing us to connect to the global community, ” say Josue Ortega at the University of Essex in the U.

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K. Loose ties have traditionally played a key role in meeting partners. While most people were unlikely to date one of their best friends, they were highly likely to date people who were linked with their group of friends a friend of a friend, for example. In the language of network theory, dating partners were embedded in each other’s networks. Indeed, this has long been reflected in surveys of the way people meet their partners:

through mutual friends, in bars, at work, in educational institutions, at church, through their families, and so on. Online dating has changed that. Today, online dating is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular. That has significant implications.

“People who meet online tend to be complete strangers, ” say Ortega and Hergovich. And when people meet in this way, it sets up social links that were previously nonexistent. The question that Ortega and Hergovich investigate is how this changes the racial diversity of society. “Understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is an important problem, for intermarriage is widely considered a measure of social distance in our societies, ” they say. The researchers start by simulating what happens when extra links are introduced into a social network.

Their network consists of men and women from different races who are randomly distributed. In this model, everyone wants to marry a person of the opposite sex but can only marry someone with whom a connection exists.

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