Statistics please: where/how do people meet their mates? (NOT an IMHO poll)

Dear Collective Abby,

I imagine Cosmo or somebody must have published many articles on this, but I can’t find them on Google.

What percentage (USA) meets their SO at work? At college? Known since childhood? Chance encounter? Introduced by family and friends?

I am asking this because I suspect the percentage of people who met by introduction may be significant, therefore my friends and relations have skimped on their dooty. Curse this D.I.Y., go-it-alone culture…


Hell, I’ll play along…

Lady Chance and I met 17 years ago in college. We met at a party in Frederick Hall but I didn’t remember her. Then I started seeing her roomie.

Then I dropped the roomie over Spring Break to take up with Lady Chance. 7 years later we were married. We’ve been together (as a couple) for 16 years now.

Boy, does that make me feel old.

Hey, Chance, the OP said s/he wasn’t looking for a IMHO poll.

IIRC, more people meet their mates at work than anywhere else. My guess is that college is #2.

aw, come on, somebody out there must know of a poll or a survey

Sorry no cite, but I vaguely recall a survey that backed what chula said above

I remember that survey too, and it doesn’t seem to be readily available on line (the Holy Google failed! Panic in the Streets!)

I think the number 1 and 2 responses (by a large margin) where at Work, and through a friend/relative.

Alas, clubs and bars were pretty low on the list, IIRC.

College. She was Biology and I was Geology and fortunately the two shared a common parking lot.

I was innocently walking across it one morning, minding my own gosh darn bidness, when “She” walked across my field of view. Even though I couldn’t even see her face, I stopped dead in my tracks and dumbfoundedly said to myself “Oh my gosh, I’m going to marry that girl someday.”

That day was January 18th five years ago.

It seems this survey really did exist, even though half-remembered. So, somebody somewhere in Doperland is sure to fully remember it. I would even be happy with an off-line cite.

If “college” turns out to be a big percentage, I will tear my hair in despair. Been there, done that.

If “work” turns out to be #1, that is hardly any more comforting. I just don’t hit on people at work, it’s not me.

On the other hand, if “introduction by friend/relative” turns out to be a big one, that will be slightly comforting because it will give me a convenient mythology to explain my lack of opportunities. I am so going to rag on my peeps for the lack of introductions over the years.

the trouble with searching for something like this on the internet, is that web based surveys will show everyone met through the internet


guess I will have to start reading my back issues of Cleo

I doubt that most are from college because only 24% of Americans age 25+ have graduated from college.

You could check the census for the ages at which people get married, then say that 26% (it’s higher for persons aged 25-34) of persons getting married in their early 20’s met in college and the rest met somewhere else, but I guess you couldn’t narrow it down much more.

The best way to find out would probably be to cold call random couples out of the phone book and ask. Control for urban/suburban/rural and education to make it more interesting. Got time?

Or, if you have access to a database of social psych journals, or a university library, you could see if the research has all ready been done.


I’m assuming that this is “fair use.” The article from which I clipped this goes on to explain differences between first and later marriages, and how overlapping settings interact, and many other factors involved in partner choice. I got this from PsychInfo, and I don’t think many of yinz have access.

Assortative meeting and mating: unintended consequences of organized settings for partner choices.
Author: Kalmijn, Matthijs.; Flap, Henk. Source: Social Forces v. 79 no4 (June 2001) p. 1289-312 ISSN: 0037-7732

WHICH SETTINGS WERE SHARED BY PROSPECTIVE PARTNERS?The data in Table 2 first indicate that the five settings we consider, account for 42% of the meeting places of contemporary couples. When considering specific types of settings, it appears that schools and kin are the most important: 15% of the couples in our survey visited the same school before they first met, and in nearly 15% of the couples, there were preexisting ties between the families of husband and wife. The remaining settings are less important, although they are not trivial either: around 12% lived in the same neighborhood when growing up, 8% worked in the same firm or organization, and 11% were a member of the same voluntary association. Not reported analyses indicate that there are also couples who shared more than one setting before their relationship began. About 13% shared at least two settings and 4% shared at least three settings. Of the reported combinations of settings, those involving the neighborhood are most common.

To decide if these numbers are high or low, is difficult to say without a benchmark. Information about the sources of personal networks may provide some point of comparison. Feld (1982:799) shows that 12% of people’s network ties originate at work, 17% in the neighborhood, and 7% in voluntary associations. Although one should be careful in comparing because Feld did not allow for overlapping settings, we nonetheless can see that the figures are not all that different. The work and neighborhood contexts seem somewhat less important for marriage partners, whereas voluntary associations seem somewhat more important. Schools may also be more important for marriage partners, but Feld did not provide data on this.

The remaining 58% of the couples did not share an organized setting. This does not mean that these couples shared no setting at all. Of the couples who did not share any of the organized settings we consider, 45% went to the same bars or other outgoing places before they met, and 42% had common friends before they met. In other words, even among these couples, meeting is rarely without context. Nonetheless, bars and networks are contexts that are also used by the couples who did share an organized setting. Of the couples who had an organized setting in common, 42% went to the same bars or other outgoing places before they met, and 52% had common friends. Hence, bars and networks are not alternatives to organized settings. Our comparison between couples who met through organized settings and other couples is therefore not confounded by possible homogenizing effects of other types of meeting places.

Have the settings changed in importance over time? By comparing unions of partner relations which were formed in different periods (marriage cohorts), it is possible to reconstruct whether trends have occurred in the settings spouses had in common (cf. Smeenk 1998). In Table 2, we present percentages for three marriage cohorts after World War II and we test whether possible trends are statistically significant. First of all, there are no clear signs of the marriage market becoming less organized. In all cohorts, around 42% of the couples shared at least one context before they got involved (58% shared no setting). More detailed analyses confirm that organized settings have not decreased in importance over time: the average number of settings is about 0.60 in all three cohorts. When limiting this comparison to couples who have at least one organized setting in common, the average number of settings is about 1.40 in all three cohorts, showing that combinations of settings are not becoming less or more frequent. These findings are not consistent with the sometimes suggested process of unbundling (Coleman 1990). It has been argued in the past that the various needs and functions in everyday life are increasingly fulfilled by specialized and nonoverlapping institutions. Our findings show that when the shared settings of marriage partners are used as an indicator, connections between various different institutions are not becoming looser.

While organized settings as a whole remain important, we do see a change in the type of settings people use. We notice a light decline in the importance of the neighborhood (from 12 in the oldest cohort to 10% in the youngest cohort) and a somewhat stronger decline in the overlap of families of origin (from 19 to 13%). The declining importance of ascriptive settings is in part compensated by a rising importance of settings which can be characterized as achieved. Work organizations and schools have become more important over time, although even in recent cohorts, these are not very important numerically. Voluntary associations turn out to have been as important in the past as they are today. These findings suggest that there has been a shift in relationships being formed in more familiar, ascribed settings like the neighborhood and the family context in which parents have some control, to more public settings like voluntary associations, schools, and work organizations in which parents exert little control.

Do the various social classes meet in different local settings? To answer this question, we present the percentage of couples who share specific settings for each of the four origin classes separately (Table 3). We first notice that the nonmanual classes more often share local settings than the other classes. Members of the service class and routine nonmanual class more often attend the same school, members of the service class more often share a voluntary association, and members of the routine nonmanual class more often work in the same firm or organization before getting involved. Similar results are observed when focusing on class destinations rather than on class origins. These results suggest that the lives of the manual classes are less strongly organized institutionally: they more often shared no organized setting than the other classes and thus rely more on open fields to meet and mate (cf. Bozon & Héran 1989). The only exception to this pattern is that the manual class more often uses the family as a way to meet prospective mates. This also applies to the farm class: among people with farm origins, family overlap is the most frequently used meeting channel.

Differences by religion do not appear to be pronounced, except that the most orthodox group, that of the Re-Reformed Protestants, reveals a deviant pattern. They are more likely than the other groups to have met each other through voluntary associations and schools. This probably reflects the fact that the Re-Reformed are highly involved in their church and that many schools and voluntary associations are church organized. They form about the only pillar in Dutch society that is still standing upright, and they succeed in decreasing meetings of their offspring in the open field by providing shared settings to their own group.

We finally find differences in meeting settings by education and age at marriage. When people postpone marriage, the settings they use change. Family overlap and neighborhoods become less important, and work settings become more important, suggesting that ascribed settings lose their importance as people grow older before getting married. This decline does not appear to be compensated by a rising importance in achieved settings. The percentages of those who met at school do not change, except that the latest marriers, women marrying after age 27, less often attended the same school as their husband. Differences by level of education, finally, show that the highest educated most often use the school as a meeting setting, confirming the idea that higher vocational schools and universities are most favorable toward meeting a spouse.