Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Sociology

First Advisor

Jerry A. Jacobs

Abstract

Dating and family formation have been prominent topics in family sociology, but research has narrowly focused on younger adults, meaning little is known about how older adults experience and approach these processes. Single older adults are in a different life stage, often having experienced divorce, widowhood, or both, and having more extensive families, but not seeking a partner with whom to have children. Older singles often became single again more recently, meaning they are relatively new to dating. This research investigates how age and gender structure and influence the process of finding a romantic partner in older age. How do older adults navigate finding a partner? How do older adults utilize online dating websites? Is this process different between men and women? This research is based on in-depth interviews with 100 heterosexual older singles, 50 men and 50 women ages 60-83, who have experienced singlehood, dating, and (re)partnering in older age. They vary by gender, race, education, marital history and family structure, location, and other demographics, but all have sought a romantic partner through online dating websites. I find that single older adults have learn how to date and adopt egalitarian dating scripts unevenly. Older singles are also pursing romantic relationships during a pandemic and justifying this decision through loneliness and, particularly for women, planning COVID-safe dates. Lastly, I find carework responsibilities alter one’s desirability on the dating market, with women becoming less desirable and men becoming more desirable because of their ties to family. I argue that the process of finding a romantic partner is unique because of their age, as they weave together modern and traditional behaviors and attitudes, and gender differentiates the experience, with men and women adhering to and rejecting traditional gender roles in unequal measures. This study not only illustrates the impact of age and gender but shifts our conceptualization of dating and marriage market theory and highlights the steadfast and deep desire to find a romantic partner.

Embargoed

Available to all on Sunday, September 14, 2025

Included in

Sociology Commons

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