DP18422 The Causal Effects of Online Dating Apps: Evidence From U.S. Colleges
Online dating apps have revolutionized the dating market over the past decade, yet their broader effects remain unclear. We analyze the impact of the early diffusion of the leading dating app -- Tinder -- across U.S. colleges on dating behavior, relationships, and health. For identification, we rely on the ample evidence that Tinder's early promotion strategy focused primarily on Greek organizations on college campuses. Using a comprehensive survey of college students containing more than 1.1 million responses around the year of Tinder's rollout, we estimate a difference-in-differences model comparing student outcomes before and after Tinder's rollout and across individuals with varying Greek organization membership. We find that the introduction of Tinder led to a sharp and persistent increase in reported dating and sexual activity. It had no impact on the probability of being in a relationship or having relationship problems and, on average, caused a relative improvement in student mental health. However, it also increased the frequency of reported instances of sexual assault and sexually transmitted diseases. Accordingly, these effects have downstream impacts on self-reported academic performances. A complementary identification strategy relying on across-college comparisons confirms that the above estimates are not driven by spillovers on non-Greek students. Overall, these findings suggest that, by dramatically reducing search costs, online dating apps altered dating-market equilibria toward higher turnover in romantic couplings and greater prevalence of casual sex.