Does it really matter how you meet your spouse? According to a new study, it might.
Titled "Relative Strangers: The Importance of Social Capital for Marriage," the study found that 12% of couples who meet online get divorced within the first three years of marriage compared to 2% of couples who meet through friends or family. After seven years, those statistics increase to 17% and 10% respectively.
The research was commissioned by the Marriage Foundation and compiled by polling company Savanta ComRes, both based in the U.K.
"These figures are troubling given the increasing popularity of couples meeting online," the Marriage Foundation’s research director, Harry Benson, said in a statement released Sunday. "It suggests that in the early years of marriage, couples who meet this way might lack sufficient social capital or close support networks around them to deal with all the challenges they face."
The study surveyed more than 2,000 adults who were at least 30 years old and married at least once. Since the 2000s, online dating has surged in popularity and acceptance, currently responsible for more than half of couples. Before the 2000s, about two-thirds of couples met through family, at work or in social settings such as bars or parties.
The study controlled for the decade in which couples met, age, gender and occupation, and online couples were still more likely to divorce in the early years.
"Our findings in NO way undermines or diminishes the vital role of online dating," Benson said. "But it does highlight the greater risks and difficulties of getting to know a relative stranger where reliable sources of background information and subsequent social support are less readily available.
“Identifying these differences should allow those of us who provide support and instruction to couples thinking of tying the knot to better target the information we provide and encourage a focus on building social capital in the early years of marriage."
Online dating isn't the only meeting method that's more likely to lead to divorce. The study found that 8% of couples who met in school and 7% of couples who met at work divorce within the first three years compared to only 2% and 3% of couples who met through family and friends or at bars, respectively.
But after overcoming the first few rocky years that many marriages experience, the way couples initially met doesn't make much of a difference — at the workplace, online, at a bar or through family all have divorce rates hovering around 20%.
"The fact that the added risk disappears after the first three years of marriage points to the importance of social capital established over the long term through families and friendships and communities," the study states.