Is Gen Z Killing Dating Apps?

gen z killing dating apps uni
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Dating apps seem to be a permanent part of the cultural landscape, including specially targeted ones parsing their users by faith, professional achievement and farmer status. But even though online dating tips and Hinge prompts are ordinary conversation fodder between friends, there are some indications that dating apps (which arguably reached critical mass when Tinder was introduced in 2013) might be on the way out. Specifically, Gen Z is rejecting dating apps and share prices of dating app companies are falling. Why can this be, and what’s going to replace all that swiping?

Let’s leave aside the lures and snares of actually using the apps for a moment and look at the user data. A nationwide Axios survey of 978 college-age people revealed that 79 percent of respondents did not use a dating app regularly, and more than half met their most recent significant other in person—35 percent in school, 14 percent through mutual friends and 15 percent randomly in person. That doesn’t bode well for the apps’ immediate future, because the rest of the Gen Z cohort (they’re currently between 11 and 26 years old) is coming of dating age within the next ten years.

Further, these big companies’ bottom lines don’t look so hot. When Bumble went public in early 2021, its share price was around $70; at publication time, it’s hovering at $14. As for Match Group, the parent company of apps including Tinder and Hinge? Its stock plunged 68 percent in the last year, after having fallen precipitously in price the previous year also.

Why is this happening now?

We asked Nancy Jo Sales, journalist and author of Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno, for some insight. She conducted many interviews with millennials and Gen Z for her book and for Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age, a documentary she wrote and directed on dating culture. Over the years, she's collected accounts of app-enabled sexual violence, scamming, racism, transphobia and predation of the underage. Understandably, she’s come away with the idea that digital apps are harmful to users. “This isn’t a personal animus,” she said. “It’s a person with a beat. Sometimes as a reporter you see something that feels very urgent because you see it hurting people, like Upton Sinclair wrote about the meat industry poisoning people. I feel like this is a similar thing that is happening now.”

Until recently all the media reports on the apps have been largely positive, Sales said, but she sees Gen Z, who get their news from social media, as getting the real scoop via TikTok and Instagram posts in which some woman or man is complaining about dating apps. “Where [corporate] media has failed, real people have taken up the truth-telling, and they are publishing real stories about what is wrong with the apps and how it doesn’t lead to stable relationships,” Sales said.

“I think millennials, unfortunately, were the most harmed by the dating app culture,” Sales said, due to the technology emerging during their young adult years. The reporter contrasts the experience of millennials with the sentiment of her recent college-grad daughter’s cohort. “My daughter and her friends, none of them are on dating apps, nobody is using these things or very few. I think it is a trend, and I am happy because they will have more enriching, happier relationships and won’t be subjected to abuse, especially as women being subjected to the exhaustion and the unpaid labor that dating apps really are, because they need you to use them to continue to make profits for their companies.” By unpaid labor, Sales is talking about how users, by posting photos and otherwise engaging with the apps, are actually doing work to benefit the app, which looks more robust the more people post on it.

If not the apps, what?

Let’s just say there’s a reset and dating apps continue to decrease in popularity. Are there any hints of what is going to become the Next Big Thing in dating? Perhaps we'll see more of IRL group meet ups such as The Feels, a ticketed monthly evening for singles that’s popped up in Brooklyn and Philadelphia (it promises that it “fuses meditation, prompts, reflections + somatic elements like eye gazing”). And there are singles clubs such as Los Angeles-based SoSo (Singles Only Social Club), which has the tag line “Make friends, date, find the love of your life, get kicked out”. And finally, speed dating, a phenomenon played for laughs on Sex and the City, has reemerged on the singles scene.

If none of this sounds especially novel, perhaps the future world has not yet imagined its best possible mechanisms for pair bonding—but that doesn't mean we need to worry over the next generation’s mating innovations. “Human beings have certain very powerful drives. One is for food, another is for sex and along with that, companionship,” Sales said. “We do not need apps to connect—8 billion people on earth got here without dating apps, so I am confident that people will figure it out.”

And finally, let’s imagine an end run around the dating-app-enabled mating play. What if, taking into account Gen Z’s exertions toward enacting social justice and fending off an environmental apocalypse, all the free labor the dating apps require seems like just too much effort for too little return? In which case, all that time spent do-gooding could lead to the best sort of shared-values mingling, at the picket line or the rally.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...