Against the odds: The rise of online dating in Asia

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and border closures, has created many a lonely soul. This is perhaps the main reason why online dating has seen a meteoric rise since the coronavirus first hit. But online dating apps are not new, and they are just one of the many ways in which technology has disrupted our way of life.

Global dating app revenue has increased by 50% over the last four years, reaching $3.08 billion in 2020. The global dating app market is forecast to surpass $8.4 billion by 2024. In Asia, like the rest of the world, online dating apps have seen an increase in usage during the pandemic. In Singapore, during the circuit breaker lockdown, users of dating app Paktor spent 10 times longer on the app than they did before the pandemic. In China, mobile dating app Tantan reported that average time spent on the app increased by more than 30% during the pandemic compared with average usage before COVID-19.

Being a diverse region, Asia is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities, which can manifest in widely different consumer behaviours from one city to the next. To deep-dive into this diversity, GMO Research conducted a survey into online dating in six different countries across Asia: Japan, Korea, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. This article highlights key trends and consumer preferences in these different countries, and provides cross-country comparisons to give you detailed insights into consumer behaviour in the region.

The most popular way for people to meet potential partners is through an introduction by friends or colleagues. This is consistent across all the countries surveyed.

Online dating in Asia

Despite pressure from the more conservative societies, dating apps have still managed to find their way into Asia and are growing at a steady pace. According to the survey, online dating apps have had the highest adoption rate in India at 57.2%, followed by Thailand at 46.5% and Malaysia at 32.4%.

Most respondents from the survey agree that there has been an increase in the usage of online dating apps since COVID-19. In India, as many as 78% of respondents think that there has been increased usage of online dating apps since the start of the pandemic. This is followed by Indonesia and Thailand, where slightly more than half (58.6% and 56.8%, respectively) of respondents think there has been increased usage.

With the exception of Japan, there has been a higher adoption rate of online dating apps among male users. This disparity is most noticeable in India, where up to 71.3% of dating app users are male. There is also a significantly higher proportion of male users in Thailand, at 66.7%. In Indonesia, 62.3% of dating app users are male, the third highest in the region. Apps in Korea and Malaysia have more balanced gender splits, with male users making up 58% and 55%, respectively.

Findings from this survey have shone a spotlight on the usage of online dating apps by married people in these different countries. Out of those who have ever used an online dating app, India has the highest proportion, with 77.9% married and currently engaged in online dating. Next is Indonesia, where 60.1% are married and currently using an online dating app. The third highest is Thailand, with 53.7% married and currently engaged in online dating. Korea is next at 51.6%, and Malaysia and Japan have the lowest proportions of married people engaged in online dating, at 38.4% and 35.4%, respectively.

The GMO survey has highlighted the most popular apps preferred by consumers across the different countries. With the exception of Japan and Korea, which have particularly distinct and unique cultures, Tinder has emerged as the most popular app in all the countries surveyed. The highest usage rate for Tinder can be found in India (67.5%), followed by Malaysia (40.1%) and Indonesia (36.8%). Tinder is ranked second in Korea, behind popular Korean dating app Amanda, which was created by tech start-up NextMatch. In Japan, the top three most popular apps are Pairs, Omiai, and Tapple.

Online dating in Asia

What are the key reasons for using a dating app for consumers in Asia? The most common reason given in Malaysia (30.9%), India (26.9%), and Indonesia (26.8%) is “looking for new friends”. Most app users in Korea (44.3%) and Thailand (38.9%), however, are “just curious”. Japan is the only country where the top reason given for using a dating app is to look for a serious relationship.

Many countries in Asia are rather conservative, and casual relationships associated with online dating are frowned upon. This might be one of the underlying reasons why a large proportion of people in Asia have not engaged in online dating. The GMO survey sought to find out more about the reasons behind this reluctance to use dating apps among consumers in Asia. One popular reason is the preference for making a connection in person. This is the top reason given in Thailand (43%), Malaysia (53.9%), and Indonesia (53.9%). In India and Korea, the top reason for staying away from dating apps is a distrust of strangers met online. In Japan, most respondents feel that using a dating app would affect them negatively.

Interestingly, the GMO survey has shed some light on the truthfulness of dating app users across different countries in Asia. A high proportion of app users in India admitted to fabricating their profiles; at 70.1%, this is the highest proportion among the countries surveyed. Next highest is Thailand, where 69.2% of app users fabricate their profiles. In contrast, in the other countries surveyed, most app users do not fabricate their profiles. At 67.8%, Korea has the highest proportion of app users whose profiles are authentic. This is followed by Malaysia at 64.8% and Japan at 61.3%.

During the pandemic, many people have become more isolated, and as a result more people are seeking connections virtually, for both companionship and emotional support, as a coping mechanism for loneliness. In fact, there is definitely an upward trend in relationships starting online and going forward from there. This could lead to more serious relationships and even marriages as online dating goes mainstream.