Do older people use online dating sites?

Posted by Dr Claire Hill on 23rd January 2023

Think the world of online dating is just for the young? Think again. Older adults (somewhat depressingly defined as those over the age of 55!) are increasingly using online dating sites to meet new people1. Recent research showed that nearly a fifth of adults aged 55 to 64 years old and 13% of adults over 64 years old have tried dating apps2. Free Dating is no exception to this trend as 57 percent of members are over the age of 55, and the site has a big over 50's dating community . Whilst there doesn't seem to be any official stats on gender differences in older adults use of online dating, it has been suggested that this would follow the general trend that more men than women turn to online dating3. In fact, on Free Dating this does seem to be born out as about two thirds of those over 55 are male.

Older couple

Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

Wondering why online dating is a go-to for the older generation? A survey showed that the key reasons given by older adults is that they believe they will meet a broader range of people online compared to other ways and because they don't have to interact with anyone they don't want to4. Interestingly, this survey also found that about half used online dating to find a serious relationship, a quarter wanted to find friendship and companionship, and only 14% was looking for causal dating.

Psychologists have suggested that the increase in online dating during the twilight years could be explained by socioemotional selectivity theory, which is basically a fancy way of saying that as you get older you realise that life doesn't go on forever and you don't want to spend it alone5. Adding to this, it has been argued that older adults may find it trickier to find romance through more traditional offline ways6.

So what are older adults looking for when they date online? A recent survey of 200 adults aged over 60 revealed that women wanted a partner who was honest and would do leisure activities with them, whilst men wanted a partner they were physically attracted to and who could provide them with emotional support7. This echoed previous findings from interviews with adults aged 53 to 74 years old where older men said they were looking for physical attractiveness whereas women said they were looking for how able a partner was8. And as for that stereotype of the older man seeking a woman younger than themselves? Well, an analysis of 600 online dating profiles did indeed support this, as men looked for women younger than themselves as they got older, whereas women sought older men until the age of 75 when they then started to seek someone younger than themselves9. When looking at Free Dating we see that on average men set their minimum age search criteria to be 20 years younger than them, which is double the minimum age difference than women search for. Although men on Free Dating may cast the age net wide, in reality they chat online with women who are just a couple of years younger than them on average. Curiously women end up chatting with men who are about 9 years younger than them, which could suggest there's a bit of the "cougar" phenomenon going on.

What is also striking about online dating in older adults is that they are more likely to actually take the plunge into converting those online chats into an offline encounter. In fact, a survey of 645 people aged between 18 and 73 years old found that age was the key predictor of taking online dating offline, trumping even other factors such as trust10. Psychologists have proposed that this may be due to the "positivity effect" which is where older adults tend to mentally process positive information over and above negative information compared to younger adults11. Furthermore, older adults tend to place less weight on negative information compared to the young12. So this would suggest that older adults are focused more on the positives of online dating such as finding a life partner, which helps them take that crucial step of meeting up in person.

Perhaps all of this has made you question whether online dating really is the preserve of the young. Certainly more and more older adults are not just signing up to dating sites, but they are actually wanting to find a genuine connection with someone that they can enjoy beyond the laptop. Seems it's not just wine that improves with age.


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  2. Pew Research Center. (2020). Americans' personal experiences with on¬line dating.
  3. Gewirtz-Meydan, A., Opuda, E., & Ayalon, L. (2022). Sex and love among older adults in the digital world: a scoping review. The Gerontologist, 3.
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