Publication Date:

Dec 18, 2018

Key facts about dating

  • Since 1976, the share of students in twelfth grade who report dating frequently (more than once a week) has declined, from 33 percent to 15 percent in 2016; the proportion of twelfth graders who report not dating at all increased substantially over the same period, from 15 to 45 percent.
  • The share of students who date frequently increases considerably with age: In 2016, the proportion was 4 percent among eighth-grade students, 7 percent among tenth-grade students, and 15 percent among twelfth-grade students.
  • In 2016, male eighth graders were more likely to date frequently than their female peers (5 and 2 percent, respectively); however, in the tenth and twelfth grades, the two genders were almost equally likely to report frequent dating.
  • Among eighth graders in 2016, non-Hispanic black students were less likely to never date (62 percent) than their Hispanic and non-Hispanic white peers (68 and 70 percent, respectively), but there were no major differences among the three races/ethnicities by twelfth grade.

Trends in dating

Although dating in adolescence is still common, students in the eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades in 2016 were less likely to date than their counterparts in 1991. This shift in behavior is more pronounced among twelfth-grade students, where the proportion of youth who did not date more than tripled, from 14 percent in 1991 to 45 percent in 2016. 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 48 to 69 percent. Much of this increase has come recently, as the proportion of twelfth graders never dating increased by 7 percentage points from 2013 to 2016, while the proportion of tenth and eighth graders reporting the same increased by 11 and 9 percentage points, respectively, over the same four-year period (Appendix 1).

In a similar trend, the proportion of teens who date more than once a week has been decreasing. From 1991 to 2016, the percentage of twelfth graders who went on more than one date per week declined from 34 to 15 percent. In the same period, the proportion of tenth graders who frequently dated also declined from 17 to 7 percent. The proportion of eighth graders who date frequently remained fairly constant from 1991 to 2011, from 7 to 8 percent. However, this figure has since decreased to 4 percent in 2016 (Appendix 2).

Differences by age

In 2016, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of eighth-grade students reported never dating, compared with 55 percent of tenth graders and 45 percent of twelfth graders (Appendix 1).

The share of students who date more than once a week increases markedly with age, from 4 percent among eighth-grade students, to 7 percent of tenth-grade students, to 15 percent of students in the twelfth grade in 2016 (Appendix 2).

Differences by gender

In 2016, male eighth graders had higher rates of frequent dating than their female counterparts (5 and 2 percent, respectively) but, in tenth and twelfth grades, the two genders were almost equally likely to report frequent dating (Appendix 2). However, while females at all three grade levels were more likely than males to report that they never date, the gap decreases at higher grade levels (Appendix 1).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin1

In 2016, 16 and 17 percent of non-Hispanic white and Hispanic twelfth graders respectively reported frequent dating (more than once a week), compared with 11 percent of non-Hispanic black students. Non-Hispanic white students were more likely than non-Hispanic black students to date frequently in tenth grade, as well (8 and 4 percent, respectively); again, Hispanic students were not noticeably less likely to date frequently than non-Hispanic white students, at 7 percent. In eighth grade, however, non-Hispanic black students had the highest rate of frequent dating (6 percent), followed by Hispanic students (5 percent) and non-Hispanic white students (3 percent) (Appendix 2).

Twelfth graders were almost equally likely to report never dating regardless of race/Hispanic origin. In 2016, 45 percent of non-Hispanic black students reported never dating, followed by 44 percent of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic white students. In tenth grade, non-Hispanic white students were less likely to report never dating (52 percent) in 2016, compared with 57 percent of their non-Hispanic black peers and 56 percent of their Hispanic peers. Among eighth graders, non-Hispanic white students had the highest rate of never dating (70 percent), followed by their Hispanic and non-Hispanic black peers (68 and 62 percent, respectively) (Appendix 1).

Differences by parental education

In 2016, there was not a clear relationship between parental education and frequent dating. For example, among eighth graders, 5 percent of students with parents who did not graduate high school reported frequent dating, compared with 3 percent of students with a parent with a bachelor’s degree. However, among tenth graders in 2016, 6 percent of students with parents who did not graduate 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, 1976–2016.

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, 1976–2016
Appendix 2. Percentage of Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders Who Report That They Date Frequently: Selected Years, 1976–2016

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; and 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. (2018). Dating. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/dating.

Endnotes

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.