tinder-app-logo

Every “single” person in the world enjoys traveling to exotic locations, eating at new restaurants, and generally trying new things according to Tinder. The dating app shows users a dating profile that takes seconds to view and is mostly photographs. However, Tinder analyst and sociologist Jessica Carbino explains that there’s a lot more nuance involved in Tinder swiping.

The app has a simple premise: it shows the user a photograph and short biography of a potential partner. The user can swipe right or swipe left. If both the user and the person whose profile is shown swipe right, a match is made and the users have a chance to exchange messages.

While the app is streamlined, the behavior of the users is quite complex. Los Angeles Magazine interviewed the UCLA PhD about her role as a sociologist for Tinder and her role in deciphering what leads to matches between users. Carbino explains “I think Tinder is far more complex than simply physical attractiveness… With photos, people are not simply looking at whether someone has a nice smile or a nice face per se.”

Through coding Tinder profiles, running focus groups, and creating surveys for people who do and do not use Tinder, Carbino has found a lot of sociology imbedded in the process. She proposes that many sociological factors, like socioeconomic status, contribute to a successful match. Simply dividing users as ‘hot and not hot’ is too simplistic and does not provide a useful or nuanced definition of what other users are looking for. Whether or not users are consciously making these distinctions Carbino notes that men with softer jawlines are perceived as kinder, women wearing make up get more matches, and that a group photo is never a good choice for a user’s first picture.

Another interesting find of Carbino’s is what users are trying to get out of the app. She found that about 80% of Tinder users are looking for long-term relationships. Given the speed of the first step of the dating process on Tinder, this high percentage seems surprising on the surface. However, finding the reasons why is precisely what Carbino is trying to figure out by casting a sociological lens over Tinder data. With a glance at a smart phone and a swipe of the thumb, the 21st century relationship is just getting started.

Frank and Claire Underwood House of Cards Promo

Spoiler alert! This season the popular Netflix series “House of Cards” got a bit more radical. Main characters and power couple Claire and Frank Underwood are unapologetically, consensually non-monogamous. In fact, sociologist Mimi Schippers says the show portrays “one of the best television representations of an open/poly relationship I’ve seen.” In the fourth season, Claire, married to the President of the United States, becomes sexually involved with Thomas Yates, a writer. While many shows depict “extramarital affairs” as inherently negative, “House of Cards” Frank affirms that Tom can “give” Claire things he can’t.

In a blog post for NYU Press, Schippers argues that the Underwoods go “beyond” marriage, monogamy, and dominant gender norms. According to research she conducted for her upcoming book, men in polyamorous relationships tend to shift their understanding of masculinity because they must forgo jealousy and control over the women in their lives. The openly non-monogamous relationships on “House of Cards” thus challenge more than just ideas about what relationships should look like. It confronts gendered expectations for men to be competitive and possessive and grants women sexual autonomy, independent of men.

[T]he Underwoods distinguish themselves from society’s ideas of the “perfect couple” by being both child-free and consensually non-monogamous. They are something else–something beyond “perfect”, beyond marriage, and beyond traditional gender arrangements. Rather than representing bad character or immorality, Claire’s increasingly intimate relationship with Tom and Frank’s enthusiastic acceptance of it (the very definition of polyamory) punctuates and solidifies the strength of their marriage as one between equals.

When it comes to love, we needn't fear tech advances. Jimmy McIntyre, Flickr CC.
When it comes to love, we needn’t fear tech advances. Jimmy McIntyre, Flickr CC.

Between the increased screen-time, decreased personal contact, and evaluating strangers through profile pages, is online dating bad for society? Rest assured, everyone; these ideas are founded on exaggerated fictional fears rather than actual facts, as described by a Washington Post article with help from Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld.

As Rosenfeld describes through his analysis of a massive dataset regarding online dating activity, there are a lot of myths about online dating. People who meet online don’t break up as frequently as you may have been told, and online dating does not promote hookup culture over long-term relationships (as in the real world, you can find whichever you’d like). Overall, online dating seems to be working for people; Rosenfeld says societies have always been fearful of new technologies but generally come around. Can’t you feel the love?

Tinder's promise.
Tinder’s promise.

In Vanity Fair, a piece by Nancy Jo Sales discusses “hook up culture” and its potential causes, including the infamous app Tinder. Sales’ accounts of dating in New portray a “dating apocalypse,” wherein some of her interviewees see men, in particular, moving away from “relationships” altogether. To them, Tinder has forever changed how people date and how they perceive dating. As explained by John Birger in The Washington Post, however, Tinder and its ilk may be better understood of symptoms of “hookup culture” rather than causes. The real problem, Birger asserts, is plain old math.

Birger describes how today’s college-educated demographics mean three men for every four available women. For him, the surplus of women is shaping the narrative of non-committal “hook up culture” detailed in Vanity Fair. And it wouldn’t matter so much if people were more likely to date across socioeconomic or educational lines. Birger uses research from UCLA sociologists Christine Swartz and Robert Mare to show that marriage between individuals of unequal education at its lowest point in fifty years. Since college-educated women outnumber college-educated men, the former inevitably exclude a greater population of potential partners if they overlook men with different educational trajectories—and they replicate the idea that relationships are harder to come by for female college grads. Those interviewed in Sales’ article provide testimonials of the ways Tinder can affect interpersonal communication and relationships, but as Birger shows, demographics and mathematics paint a more accurate picture of how “hook up culture” lasts beyond college.

For more on marriage across class and education lines, see Jessi Strieb’s “Marrying Across Class Lines.” For more on “hook up culture,” see Elizabeth Armstrong, Laura Hamilton, and Paula England’s “Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?”

Even the show cringed at its title, making new jokes every week. Image via Slacktory.
Even the show cringed at its title, making new jokes every week. Image via Slacktory.

Television and movie relationships between a middle-aged woman and younger man, like those on TBS’s Cougar Town often appear glamorous and dramatic, but are they accurate depictions? Milaine Alarie and Jason Carmichael tell Pacific Standard that the stereotype of wealthy “cougars” who “have been able to surgically turn back time with their looks… or literally buy young men’s attention” is more a myth popularized by shows like Sex and the City than reality. First, they find in a survey of Americans that “roughly 13 percent of sexually active women between ages 35 and 44 had slept with a man who was at least five years younger,” meaning that sexual relationships between middle-aged women and younger men are not rare. The bigger surprise is that women sporting diamonds and Chanel are less likely to be in that 13 percent than low-income women are. Additionally, rather than a steamy fling, these relationships tend to be long-term, with most lasting at least two years. “[A] sizable share of ‘cougars’ are married to their younger partners.”

Media portrayals of a woman’s midlife crisis or frantic clamor to cling to youth do not represent most women’s experiences, highlighting a cultural problem: a stereotype like the “cougar” “encourages aging women to doubt themselves.” Alarie and Carmichael hope that dispelling the cougar myth will “motivate us to reflect on our society’s tendency to (re)produce sexist and ageist conceptions of women’s sexuality, and women’s value more broadly.”

Click to pre-order the book.Sociology and stand-up comedy have a lot in common: both reveal deep truths about life experiences and reveal the connections and disconnections of humanity. One just has more citations.

For his upcoming book Modern Romance, stand-up comic and Parks and Rec star Aziz Ansari teams up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg to tackle modern dating in the age of technology. Klinenberg is well known for his work on culture and media, as well as his recent book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. Ansari’s stand-up often pokes fun at the cultural shifts in relationships, but he recently told Time that academic research, including that of MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, inspired him to delve deeper into the science behind modern relationships:

“I thought it would be kind of interesting to take my point of view and a conversation with someone from an academic field and put that together. If I could do that as a book, I would be able to go deeper into this area than I can in my stand-up.”

For the study, Ansari and Klinenberg interviewed hundreds of people worldwide about relationships, marriage, social networks, and technology. The end result uses Ansari’s comedic spin to explore the sociology behind the changing course of modern relationships. And on stage, it means getting to see Ansari act out a line graph of relationship intensity. How could you resist?

Click here to listen to an Office Hours interview with humorist and story-teller Dylan Brody about his work as “stand-up sociology”.

Photo by Nicholas via flickr.com
Photo by Nicholas via flickr.com

Many romantic couples who live together without being married do so out of wariness about the high divorce rate. Cohabiting, for these couples, can be a “trial” relationship period in which they decide their compatibility before marrying.

Until recently, previous research conclusions and popular conception held that cohabiting couples who eventually married experienced higher divorce rates than those who did not live together before marriage.

A new study by University of North Carolina-Greensboro sociologist Arielle Kuperberg proves this assumption false. Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth, Kuperberg analyzed the divorce rate among 7,000 people who had been married at least once. Kuperberg also incorporated other variables, such as the date the couple moved in together. Contrary to 1970s research, Kuperberg found no link between cohabitation and divorce.

Cornell University sociologist Sharon Sassler, in pursuit of research for her book on cohabitation, interviewed more than 150 cohabiters. She found that persons with college degrees date longer before moving in together. Those with degrees date for an average of 14 months compared to 6 months or less for non-degree holders.

As cohabitation becomes more common among couples, sociological research is investigating and dispelling myths about the intricacies of romantic relationships, turning common (and fallacious) knowledge on its head.

 

 

 

Finding more lessons from TV (in this case, shows like 30 Rock and Girls), we’re seeing how women are investing more in careers and/or casual encounters than commitments to deep romantic relationships. At face value, this looks like a great example of women’s empowerment as our society comes to terms with the fact that—well—the Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin said it better than I can.

But as Leslie C. Bell writes in The Atlantic, this hesitance to pair off isn’t necessarily happening because young women are “masters of their own destiny.” Instead, the trend may be due to a new social norm that “ambitious young women in their 20s shouldn’t want relationships with men.”

Citing work from Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong, who found that young women “believed relational commitments were supposed to take a backseat to self-development” (see their article, with Paula England, in Contexts magazine, Summer 2010), Bell argues that seemingly-progressive norms can cause undue stress when we assume individual interests are always in tension with social needs, and individual needs should always take priority.

Many young and aspiring women with whom I spoke felt as though it were counterproductive to their development to prioritize a relationship with a man.

Confused about freedom and desire, young women often split their social and psychological options—independence, strength, safety, control, and career versus connection, vulnerability, need, desire, and relationships—into mutually exclusive possibilities in life.

Bell’s point isn’t that women should go back to the old priorities either. Instead, they should recognize when it is healthy to balance a human need for social relationships with individual development. The sisters do it for themselves, but they shouldn’t always have to:

I would never advocate that women return to the stereotype of the single woman pining for romance… the successful woman who is in a relationship is not the same as the pining woman. She’s the one who is acknowledging the full range of her desires.

We all love when our partners help out around the house, but the type of tasks we’re doing might affect our sex lives. A recent study by Sabino Kornrich and her colleagues found that married, heterosexual men who do traditionally masculine chores, like mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, reported more frequent sex than those who tackle traditionally feminine chores, like cleaning. The findings imply that heterosexuals are essentially “rewarded” for sticking closely to socialized gender roles.


He might want to think about this. Photo by Heather Harvey via flickr.com.

But what about the married men who enjoy cooking and shopping? Ultimately, a couple’s sex life depends on the happiness and satisfaction in the relationship. There are plenty of couples that don’t divvy up their chores along rigidly gendered lines and still manage to be sexually fulfilled. The dealbreaker, even Kornrich says, is when the man doesn’t play any part in the script—masculine or not.

“Men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives’ marital satisfaction,” Kornrich said.

“Earlier research has found that women’s marital satisfaction is indeed linked to men’s participation in overall household labor, which encompasses tasks traditionally done by both men and women.”

Weddings
Photo by Dawn Derbyshire via flickr.com

At the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver, researchers presented their on-going research to colleagues in the field. This week, several news sources have covered sociologists’ findings about how events in the lifecourse (like getting married, divorced, or having kids) are related to health issues.

Medical News Today reports on a study by Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske, finding that moms who work full-time are healthier at age 40 than are other mothers. Particularly concerning is that the least healthy mothers at age 40 are those who are persistently unemployed or in and out of work, not by choice. Consistent work, these findings suggest, may be good for women’s health.

Co-author Adrianne Frech, Assistant Sociology Professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, told the press, work is good for both physical and mental health, for many reasons:

“It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy.”

“They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they’re paid a wage,” she added.

NBC News details research conducted by Michael McFarland, Mark Hayward, and Dustin Brown exploring how marriage is related to biological risk factors, such as high blood pressure. They found that women who were continuously married for longer periods of time had fewer cardiovascular risks, whereas women with experiences of divorce or widowhood had increased risk factors.

For women, the researchers found, the longer the marriage, the fewer cardiovascular risk factors. The effect was significant but modest, McFarland said, with every 10 years of continuous marriage associated with a 13 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk.

But when marriage is disrupted, it can be hard on the health. Women who were continuously married had a 40 percent lower count of metabolic risk factors than women who experienced two episodes or divorce or widowhood, the researchers found.

Finally, Deseret News picked up on research presented by Corinne Reczek, Tetyana Pudroyska, and Debra Umberson (also highlighted on Citings&Sightings). Their research found that being in a long-term marriage was associated with more alcohol consumption for women (compared to divorced or recently widowed women). In an interesting contrast, however, married men drink less than other men.

Our survey results show that continuously divorced and recently widowed women consume fewer drinks that continuously married women,” they wrote. “Our qualitative results suggest this occurs because men introduce and prompt women’s drinking and because divorced women lose the influence of men’s alcohol use” when the marriage fails.

As these studies indicate, it is essential to consider how social factors may be related to health outcomes, and sociologists are well positioned to contribute cutting-edge research on these issues.