Are you thinking about giving online dating a try? If you’ve already tested it out, you have plenty of company. The use of online dating sites by Americans in their mid-50s to mid-60s actually doubled from 2013 to 2015, according to the latest national survey released by the Pew Research Center.
The rise in online dating among that age group was second only to the surge among millennials ages 18 through 24, whose use of those matchmaking digital tools nearly tripled during the same period.
Much of the stigma that accompanied online dating in its early days has disappeared, and nearly 60 percent of adults in the U.S. now view it as a good way to meet people, according to the Pew report.
“As online dating has grown, it clearly has become more socially acceptable among older adults,” says Charles Stelle, Ph.D., an associate professor of gerontology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. “In fact, some of our students even talk about how they’re helping their parent or grandparent write online dating profiles.”
The evolution of dating sites
Since dating sites emerged in the mid-1990s, they have dramatically expanded to offer thousands of different choices, from large mainstream sites such as Match.com to specialized ones, such as OurTime (for singles in their 50s or older) and SeniorPeopleMeet (for singles 55 and older).
Dating sites typically fall into one of two categories: those where users create their own profiles (think personal ads) and then can browse profiles of site members on their own, or sites such as eHarmony and Chemistry.com that go a step further by screening profiles of other members to select those they deem to be compatible matches.
The selections you are shown are determined by the site’s proprietary computerized matchmaking system, based on an analysis of information you provide in lengthy questionnaires you must fill out when you first sign up.
Which sites are best for you is a matter of personal preference, and even those that charge monthly fees often offer a free trial period, which makes it easier to test-drive them.
The large non-specialized sites that leave matchmaking completely up to the user offer the advantage of exposing you to a bigger selection of potential dating partners. But if you’re overwhelmed by too many choices, you can narrow them down a bit by specifying in your profile the age range, geographic location, or other characteristics that you are seeking in a partner.
While niche sites tailored to specific interests are likely to have fewer members than mainstream ones, they still have an important benefit, according to Martin Graff, Ph.D., head of research in psychology at the University of South Wales.
Using them may boost the odds of finding someone who shares both your values and interests, which in turn can spark romantic attraction, says Graff, who is also author of a column about finding romance online for Psychology Today.
The 50-plus advantage
Finally, unless you’re seeking someone much younger than yourself, dating sites that are designed specifically for those in their 50s or older may simplify the search process because your field of possibilities is restricted to that age range.
This can be especially helpful to women, according to Jeffrey Hall, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas and lead author of a 2010 study examining online dating profiles. His study examined what people are seeking in a partner and which facts they tend to misrepresent about themselves, such as age or weight.
“Unfortunately women are disadvantaged by men’s age preferences,” Hall says. “As men age, they prefer increasingly younger mates.” In fact, his study cited previous research showing that men in their 30s prefer women who are roughly five years younger, while men in their 50s prefer women who are 10 to 20 years younger.
You can find detailed information about various dating sites—including what fees they charge, if any—from a recent Consumer Reports survey of 115,000 of its subscribers as well as NextAdvisor’s online dating comparison chart.
Andrea Rock is freelance journalist who specializes in health topics. Her work has earned her the American Academy of Family Physicians Award for Outstanding Journalistic Achievement In Reporting and Writing on Family Medicine and Health Care, the National Magazine Award for Journalism in the Public Interest, and the Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting. She was a senior writer and editor for Consumer Reports for more than a decade, and is the author of The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Money, SELF, O Magazine, and Ladies’ Home Journal.