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Cash-rich, time-poor professionals who already do everything from shop to socialise online, now see a search engine as the obvious gateway to love.Scarred by their parents’ (or their own) divorces, this generation approaches affairs of the heart with the same pragmatism as it might buying a car or booking a holiday.But can something as nebulous as everlasting love really be found via a computer chip?

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The result is that, rather than being someone that defies all calculation, love is now big business worth an annual billion internationally and growing at 70 per cent a year – with high-tech venture capitalists, psychologists and software engineers reaping vast rewards.Academics, meanwhile, are fascinated by the data being gathered — and largely kept secret — by the dating industry.“We’d love to get hold of more of it, but they’re not keen to share though we’re in discussion with a few of them,” says Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University and author of The Science of Love and Betrayal.“They have a huge database and they also can follow couples’ stories through, which hasn’t been possible so far.” For most of history, using a third party to help you find love was the norm.But in the 20th century this all changed, with young people deciding they wanted to be in charge of their own domestic destinies.

Matchmakers were viewed as hook-nosed crones from Fiddler on the Roof or pushy Mrs Bennet at the Pemberley ball.

From Romeo and Juliet, to dashing Mr Rochester choosing plain Jane Eyre, we celebrated stories of Cupid’s dart striking randomly.

But since 1995 when the first online dating site was launched, the tables have completely turned.

Anna Wilkinson has been married for seven years, has two young children, and – although exhausted – is delighted with her lot.

“I was 33, had just broken up with my boyfriend and was beginning to think I’d never have a family life.

I’d always been attracted to mavericks, handsome men, who – after a year or so – made it clear they had no intention of settling down.