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Middle-Aged and Looking for Love ... Online

Cupid? It's the Internet for matchmaking

Looking for romance? If you're between 40 and 70, it's likely you're looking online.

A new international study funded by eHarmony, the online dating service, and conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute in England, found that middle-aged men and women were the most likely people to use online dating sites, with 36 percent saying they had found their current partner online.

The study contradicts the assumption that social networking and online dating is primarily for the young. Just 23 percent of those ages 18 to 40 had started a relationship thanks to the Internet.

The study, with the rather unromantic title of "A Global Shift in Relationship Practices: Patterns of Meeting and Dating in the Online World," was conducted online (of course) with 12,000 couples from 18 countries. The couples were asked, among other things, how they met and whether they had visited dating websites between 1997 and 2009.

Their answers revealed that online dating sites have spiked in popularity since 2000. Just 6 percent went to dating websites in 1997, but 30 percent had tried them by 2009.

"Finding your partner online was once regarded as a bit of a novelty, but this survey suggests it has become a common if not dominant way of meeting new partners, particularly if you are between 40 and 70 years old," study coauthor Bernie Hogan of the University of Oxford said in a statement.

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Despite the increased enthusiasm for online dating sites, most people still said they had met their partner through more traditional channels. Nearly 70 percent said they had met at clubs or bars, while 67 percent got matched up through friends of friends.

Matchmaking through church events, family gatherings or shared hobbies experienced a slight decline in popularity, possibly because these techniques proved less successful, said the study's authors. Only one in 15 participants who said they had hoped to meet someone through their church had actually found someone that way.

Still, that newfangled Internet romance isn't for everyone. Only two people in the sample started a relationship in their 70s — and neither did it through online dating.

Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition.