These Are The Ways Dating Has Changed In The Past Century

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that dating works a little differently today than it did in the past. In the early 20th century, dating was more about social status than it was about finding love. As such, the parents, particularly the father, of the woman would typically be involved. By the middle of the century, getting married shortly after high school was the norm, which didn’t leave much time to date around. Nowadays, online dating offers countless prospective suitors, but the process of dating seems more watered down. Read on to discover how dating has changed, for better or for worse, over the past 100 years.

Courting Became Dating

A couple walks outside.
Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Cambridge Dictionary defines courting as “to have a romantic relationship with someone that you hope to marry.” While this may at first sound similar to dating, the differences are fundamental. As more and more people began attending college and joining different workforces, they became exposed to more potential partners.

Thus, dating emerged as a less structured adaptation of courtship. Free of the pressure to get married, people who are attracted to one another could have fun getting to know each other. In essence, dating places emphasis on the journey rather than the destination.

Men Don’t Always Pick Up The Tab

A man and woman look at one another over dinner at a restaurant.
Kurt Hutton/Getty Images
Kurt Hutton/Getty Images

According to Bankrate, 37% of millennials expect to split the bill on the first date compared to 25% of baby boomers. According to the survey, this percentage has gradually increased every generation, including Generation Z (the ones younger than millennials) who came in at 39%.

There are many reasons why splitting the first date bill has become the norm. For one, women have risen in the workforce over the century, enabling them to provide for themselves. For two, dating isn’t always between one man and one woman, so in some relationships, gender roles are simply null and void.

You Can Meet Online

An eye reflects a computer screen with a heart in it.
Classen/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Classen/ullstein bild via Getty Images

According to Our World In Data, the population has more than quadrupled over the past century. That means there are more people to sort through while dating than ever before. Previously, between friends, family, and career there were just enough options to find an array of people to date.

Nowadays, it’s more about narrowing down the options as efficiently as possible. That’s what has attracted many to online dating. Sites like eHarmony promise to match you with suitors based on common interests, ideally, so you don’t have to waste your time.

Parents Are No Longer Involved

A man meets his girfriend's father.
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

According to the US Census Bureau, the average age to get married in the ’50s and ’60s was about 20 years old for women and 22 for men. Those numbers jumped to 28 for women and 30 for men by 2018. This means that people are spending more years dating before marriage.

Where parents come into play is that the younger the married couple, the more involved the parents would likely be in their lives and decisions. Additionally, if people are spending more time dating, it’s less likely that the person you date will make it to the meeting-the-parents stage.

Dating Is A Longer Process

A middle-aged couple poses on the beach.
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Back when couples were getting hitched at a young age, they didn’t have as much time to date. Now that people are getting married later, they have more of their adult lives to date whomever they please for as long as they wish.

Furthermore, adults are taking their time to evaluate their partner. A survey from Bridebook found that couples in the UK are waiting an average of five years before getting married. With the looming 50% divorce rate hanging over the heads of young people, they are more concerned with marrying “the one.”

Dating Couples Are More Likely To Live Together

A couple holds hands and smiles while sitting on their bed.
Virend/Getty Images
Virend/Getty Images

According to the US Census Bureau, only 0.1% of unmarried couples aged 18-24 and 0.2% aged 25-34 lived together in 1968. In 2018, this number increased to 9.4% for the younger age bracket and 14.8% for the older bracket.

The shift in cohabiting while dating reflects how younger generations feel about dating and marriage. Additionally, there were half as many married young adults in 2018 as there were in 1978. This data goes to show that people are still capable of building strong relationships through dating, despite a generally longer trial period before marriage.

Love Is The Most Important Thing

A couple looks at one another in front of a sunset.
Dmitry FeoktistovTASS via Getty Images
Dmitry FeoktistovTASS via Getty Images

The saying goes, “first comes love, then comes marriage.” However, it wasn’t always this way. An article by UCSB states that the years between 1910 and 1950 had a dating system referred to by sociologists as the “dating and rating complex.”

During this time, men’s reputation was based on wealth, while women’s reputation was based on how many dates they could secure with these men. Marriage, then, was all about matching statuses. Over the decades, emphasis on romance obliterated this system.

Getting To Know Each Other Extends Past The Dates

A woman smirks while she texts and walks down a street.
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

According to The Conversation, there were 10 people for every telephone in the US in 1914 and 5 people per phone in 1945. That means that outside of dates, your conversation times were limited. Then in the ’90s, the internet enabled instant messaging; conversations could carry over from physical interactions to virtual ones without the limitations of sharing a landline.

Shortly thereafter, cell phones revolutionized it all. Pew Research Center reported in 2019 that 96% of Americans have a cell phone and 81% have a smartphone. Between phone calls, texting, and video chat, getting to know one another is no longer limited to the time spent on a date.

Commitment Can Be Hard To Find

A couple holds hands.
Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images
Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

With all of the technological advances and dating sites today, you would think that dating would be easier than ever. Yet, for many millennials dating is more frustrating and complicated than ever. It seems more people date for the sake of dating, rather than trying to establish a commitment with someone.

This shift likely began in the free love era of the sixties, during which restrictions were condemned and freedom exalted. After decades of emphasis on individuality, finding someone who doesn’t mind the compromises that relationships bring can be a challenge.

The First Date Is More Of A Risk Than Before

A man looks nervous at he types into his laptop.
Shams Qari /Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Shams Qari /Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Prior to the internet, people generally knew who they were about to go on a date with. More than likely, you had spoken in person before or knew someone who had. Now that complete strangers can meet online, you don’t always know for sure who you’re about to go out with.

The term “being catfished” became commonplace in the past decade as a way to describe someone who was misled to believe they were communicating with someone else. Going on a first date with someone you met online presents a cause for anxiety that didn’t exist before.

Men Don’t Always Pick The Woman Up

A couple relaxes under a tree in front of their parked car.
Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images
Fairfax Media via Getty Images/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

A century ago, dates had a different kind of structure. Typically, the man would pick up the woman, in part to meet her parents, and in part to assert his role as provider. In today’s #MeToo world, women are taking more precautions than ever while dating.

Some women feel more comfortable meeting a man at a location rather than being picked up, especially when it comes to a person she hardly knows or has yet to meet. The arrangement allows the woman to feel in control since she knows she has the power to leave the situation, while also keeping her address unknown.

Becoming “Official” Looks Different

A woman takes a selfie of her and her boyfriend kissing on a bridge.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the 1950s, couples would decide that they were “going steady.” This meant that they were serious about seeing only each other. Similar to how an engagement ring signals that a couple is going to be married, a man might give his lady a class ring or a letterman jacket to indicate that they were going steady.

In today’s world, youth often calls this “becoming official,” and the only way to outwardly indicate it is on social media. The closest comparison to the letterman jacket may be posting photos together, creating a loving, public post, or changing your relationship status.

People Date Outside Of Their Faith

A couple sits on a bench overlooking a lake.
Annie Gowen/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Annie Gowen/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Pew Research Center reports that in 1960 81% of Americans were married to a spouse of the same religion. That number dropped to 61% in 2010, meaning that nearly 40% of more recent marriages were interfaith.

Furthermore, nearly half of all unmarried couples who cohabitate are of different faiths. These marriage statistics go to show that more people are willing to date someone who has a different religion than them. If half of the people in the US live with a partner of a different faith, just imagine how many people have dated outside of their faith.

PDA Is More Acceptable While Dating

A man plants a kiss on his girlfriend's cheek.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In the 1950s, the practice of “going steady” afforded couples to become closer pre-marriage than in decades prior. Thus, more teens were getting cozy with their partners. By the ’60s, couples were rolling around in the grass together on television during the Summer of Love.

These eras paved the way for public displays of affection. In the earlier half of the century, it was unheard of to be seen kissing someone you weren’t married to. Nowadays, people can get away with a lot more.

You’re More Likely To Have A Child While Dating

A couple and thier baby visit ancient ruins.
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Since people who date have become more likely to be physically involved and living together over the years, it should come as no surprise that birth rates out of wedlock have risen. YaleGlobal reports that the number of babies being born to unwed parents has skyrocketed around the world since 1964.

Furthermore, in 2014, 4% of all children in the United States were living with cohabiting, unwed parents. A century ago, dating couples would have to worry about their child being discriminated against. Today, there is a more widespread acceptance of families formed outside of marriage.

Dating Long-Distance Is More Convenient

A couple sits on a bench on the pier.
Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A century ago, the idea of a long-distance relationship was almost unheard of. For one, you didn’t have as many opportunities to meet someone who lived far away, let alone to cultivate enough of a relationship that you’d want to start dating.

In today’s world, there are many ways to communicate at all times. Long Distance Relationship Statistics reports that in 2019 there were 14 million long-distance couples in the US. We can’t imagine that number would be so high in a world without smartphones.

Dating Starts At A Younger Age

A couple uses paper letters to spell out
Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Debrocke/ClassicStock/Getty Images

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, girls start dating at 12.5 years old and boys start dating at 13.5 years old, on average. Considering that a century ago dating was primarily about finding a soulmate, and people are getting married later these days, this age seems a little young.

However, the kind of dating that these early adolescents are involved in isn’t as intimate as you may be thinking. Those first “dates” are usually more like group gatherings at the mall or the movies. The dating couple may be a little flirty, but they probably aren’t “going steady” like their 1950s counterparts.

Seniors Are More Likely To Date

An elderly couple walks on the beach.
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

In the past century, getting remarried has become increasingly acceptable, especially among senior citizens. Pew Research Center found that half the adults aged 65 and older had remarried, compared to just 34% in 1960.

If more seniors are getting remarried, it can be inferred that more seniors are dating. One reason for this increase may be senior dating sites. In the past, dating only seemed viable for young people since they interacted with predominantly single people. Today, seniors have a wide array of prospective love interests thanks to the internet.

Dating Partners Are Less Likely To Label It

A man and woman smile near a car.
Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images
Sergei BobylevTASS via Getty Images

As we discussed earlier, courting evolved into dating as the process became less structured. Similarly, the “no strings attached” culture that’s risen since the 1960s has lead to fewer prospective couples using labels at all.

According to Boundless, “dating” may have emerged to describe lower-class men and women spending time together in public, since they didn’t have a fancy parlor to hang out in. In this sense, the “dating” of the yesteryear was far more casual than we think of it today, whereas some shy away from the term altogether.

It Is Easier To Date

A couple smiles at a picnic.
Photo Media/ClassicStock/Getty Images
Photo Media/ClassicStock/Getty Images

In the earliest days of dating, there was a “gentleman caller,” or the guy who wanted to date the girl. This involved a formal request, being sized up by her father, and then having a very structured and specific kind of date.

Nowadays, landing a date is as easy as sending a text. The pressure is lower, parents are less involved or not involved at all, and the date itself can take any number of forms.