NEW YORK -- Online dating is shedding its stigma as a refuge for the desperate, but people who use sites such as Match.com and eHarmony are still in the minority.
Thirty-eight percent of Americans who are "single and looking" say they've used an online dating site or mobile dating app, according to a new study.
The report published Monday from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project suggests that attitudes toward online dating "have progressed in a clearly positive direction." In fact, 59 percent of Internet users agree that online dating is a good way to meet people. That's up from 44 percent in 2005.
As Americans shop, socialize and entertain themselves online, a growing number are turning to the Internet to find dates. Some 11 percent of people who started a long-term relationship in the past decade say they met their partner online. Even so, only 10 percent of Americans say they've tried online dating.
Online dating is most popular among men and women ages 25 to 34. Nearly a quarter of them have used online dating sites, compared with just 10 percent of people in the 18 to 24 age group. For ages 35 to 44, it's 17 percent and then the numbers fall to the single digits. Three percent of those over 65 have dabbled in online dating.
Whites are slightly more likely to use dating sites than other ethnicities -- 11 percent compared with 7 percent for blacks and 5 percent of Hispanics, according to the survey. People without a high school diploma were the least likely to use the Internet to find a date, while those who have completed "some college" were the most likely.
While a relatively small fraction of people use online dating sites, forty-two percent of Americans say they know someone who has, up from 31 in 2005. Among those 65 or older, the number grew to 24 percent from 13 percent.
Once upon a time, couples who found each other online felt compelled to spin alternate "how we met" tales, but that's no longer the case. Perhaps it's the result of changing attitudes. In 2005, 29 percent of Internet users agreed that people on online dating sites were "desperate." In Pew's most recent study, that number fell to 21 percent.
But online dating isn't all chocolate hearts and red roses. More than half of online daters say they believe someone else "seriously misrepresented themselves" in an online dating profile. More than a quarter have felt uncomfortable or harassed by someone who contacted them.
The results of Pew's recent study aren't directly comparable to its 2005 report because the way surveyors count the "online dating population" has changed. There were no dating apps eight years ago. That said, the percentage of Americans who say they have used an online dating website grew from 3 percent in 2008 to 6 percent in 2009, and 9 percent this year.
Among Pew's other findings:
-- Don't call it stalking: One-third of Americans who use social networking sites use the sites to check up on somebody they once dated. The same is true for nearly half of those ages 18 to 29.
-- Match.com is the most popular dating site, according to the 2013 survey, just as it was in 2005. No. 2 this year is eHarmony. Yahoo Personals was in second place in 2005, but it no longer exists. Searching for it online will take you to Match.com.
-- Twenty-nine percent of respondents say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone they met online, compared with 15 percent in 2005.
-- Forty-six percent of people who use online dating sites say finding someone long-term is a major reason they use the sites. A quarter, on the other hand, "just want to have fun without being in a serious relationship."
The 2013 telephone survey was conducted from April 17 to May 19 among a sample of 2,252 U.S. adults, including people who don't own a landline. It has a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.