Dating Among Teens

Publication Date:

Dec 18, 2018

Key facts about dating among teens

  • Over the past 40 years, the share of students in twelfth grade who report dating frequently (more than once a week) has declined, from 33 in 1976, to 14 percent in 2017; the proportion of twelfth graders who report not dating at all increased substantially over this period, from 15 to 49 percent.
  • The share of students who date frequently increases considerably with age; in 2017, the proportion was 3 percent among eighth-grade students, 7 percent among tenth-grade students, and 14 percent among twelfth-grade students.
  • In 2017, males in eighth and twelfth grade were more likely to date frequently than their female peers, but in tenth grade, the two genders were almost equally likely to report frequent dating, at 7 percent.
  • Among eighth graders in 2017, non-Hispanic black students were less likely to never date (66 percent) than their Hispanic and non-Hispanic white peers (70 and 72 percent, respectively). By the later grades, this picture changes. Among tenth and twelfth graders in 2017, non-Hispanic black students were more likely to never date (59 and 50 percent respectively), and non-Hispanic white students were less likely to never date (52 and 45 percent respectively), than their Hispanic peers.

Trends in dating among teens

Although dating in adolescence is still common, students in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades in 2017 were less likely to report dating than their counterparts were in 1992. This shift is more pronounced for twelfth-grade students, where the proportion of youth who report they did not date more than tripled, from 15 percent in 1992 to 49 percent in 2017. In the same period, the proportion of tenth graders who never date increased from 28 to 55 percent, and the proportion of eighth graders increased from 47 to 71 percent. Much of this increase has come recently, with the proportion of twelfth graders never dating increasing by 7 percentage points from 2014 to 2017, and the proportion of tenth and eighth graders increasing by 7 and 9 percentage points, respectively, over the same period (Appendix 1).

In a similar trend, the proportion of teens who report they date more than once a week has been decreasing. From 1992 to 2017, the percentage of twelfth graders who reported they went on more than one date per week declined from 34 to 14 percent. In the same period, the proportion of tenth graders who reported frequent dating also declined, from 17 to 7 percent. The proportion of eighth graders who date frequently remained fairly constant from 1992 to 2011, between 7 and 8 percent. However, the proportion has since decreased, and was 3 percent in 2017 (Appendix 2).

Differences by age

In 2017, more than two-thirds (71 percent) of eighth-grade students reported never dating, compared with 55 percent of tenth graders, and 49 percent of twelfth graders (Appendix 1).

The share of students who date more than once a week increases markedly with age, from 3 percent among eighth-grade students, to 7 percent of tenth-grade students, to 14 percent of twelfth graders, in 2017 (Appendix 2).

Differences by gender

In 2017, male eighth and twelfth graders reported higher rates of frequent dating than their female counterparts, but in tenth grade, the two genders were nearly equally likely to report frequent dating (Appendix 2). Females at all three grade levels were more likely than males to report that they never date, though this gap decreases at higher grade levels (Appendix 1).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin*

Attitudes and practices around adolescent dating are influenced by cultural, historical, and other factors, including those associated with race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic white and Hispanic students in the twelfth grade were more likely than non-Hispanic black students to report they date frequently. In 2017, 16 percent of non-Hispanic white and 15 percent of Hispanic twelfth graders reported frequent dating (more than once a week), compared with 10 percent of non-Hispanic black students. In tenth grade as well, non-Hispanic white and Hispanic students were more likely to date frequently (7 percent among both groups) than non-Hispanic black students (5 percent). In eighth grade, however, non-Hispanic black students reported the highest rate of frequent dating (5 percent), followed by Hispanic (4 percent) and non-Hispanic white students (2 percent; Appendix 2).

In twelfth grade, race and Hispanic origin are also associated with the likelihood of never dating. In 2017, 51 percent of Hispanic and 50 percent of non-Hispanic black students reported never dating, followed by 45 percent of non-Hispanic white students. In tenth grade, non-Hispanic white students were less likely to report never dating, at 52 percent in 2017, compared with 59 percent of their non-Hispanic black peers, and 54 percent of their Hispanic peers. Among eighth graders, non-Hispanic white students reported the highest rate of never dating (72 percent), followed by their Hispanic and non-Hispanic black peers (70 and 66 percent, respectively; Appendix 1).

*Estimates for white and black youth exclude Hispanic youth and youth of two or more races. Hispanic youth include persons identifying as Mexican American or Chicano, Cuban American, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic or Latino and no other racial/ethnic group.

Differences by parental education

In 2017, there was not a clear relationship between parental education and frequent dating. For example, among eighth graders, 4 percent of students with parents who did not graduate from high school reported frequent dating, compared with 3 percent of students with a parent with a bachelor’s degree. Similarly, among tenth graders in 2017, 7 percent of students with parents who did not graduate from high school reported frequent dating, compared with 7 percent of students with a parent with a bachelor’s degree (Appendix 2).

Data and appendices

Data source

Child Trends’ original analysis of data from Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth, 1976-2017.

Raw data source

Monitoring the Future: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/

Appendices

Appendix 1. Percentage of Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders Who Report That They Never Date: Selected Years, 1976-2017

Appendix 2. Percentage of Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders Who Report That They Date Frequently: Selected Years, 1976-2017

Background

Definition

The Monitoring the Future Survey asks students “On average, how often do you go out with a date (or your spouse, if you are married)?” The possible responses are: never; once a month or less; 2 or 3 times a month; once a week; 2 or 3 times a week; over three times a week.

Frequent dating is used here to describe youth who report going out on more than one date in an average week.

Citation

Child Trends. (2019). Dating. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/dating.