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Note: this was originally published on Kinsey Confidential.
In early October, OKCupid, an online dating website, released an analysis of racial and ethnic differences in response rates. It seems love isn’t so color-blind after all.
The Study: Over One Million People
The OKCupid study assessed the responses of over one million site users. They found that two individuals of any race can be compatible just to squash any doubts that the racial and ethnic differences found in responses is due to lack of compatibility between partners of different backgrounds.
Though any two people could be compatible, the study found some remarkable racial and ethnic dynamics:
- Black heterosexual women respond the most to messages they receive on OKCupid, but heterosexual men of all races and ethnicities respond to messages from Black women the least.
- White heterosexual men’s messages are responded to the most by heterosexual women of all races and ethnicities, yet they reply the least to any messages.
- White heterosexual women prefer white men to the exclusion of men of color, yet Asian and Hispanic heterosexual women prefer white men even more exclusively.
- There is little variance among heterosexuals in support for interracial marriages, with nearly all saying such relationships are not bad, but white heterosexuals prefer white partners much more than non-white heterosexuals prefer non-white partners. The gap in same-race /ethnicity partner preference is larger between white and non-white heterosexual women.
What About Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay OKCupid Members?
In a later post, OKCupid released findings from an analysis of their members who are lesbian, bisexual, or gay.
It seems that some of the same patterns emerged among LGB people, but they were less prevalent. For example, Black women were still responded to the least among all bisexual and lesbian women, but the difference was smaller than that among heterosexuals.
LGB people are much more in favor of interracial marriage, but the same gap in preference for same-race partners exists, though it is smaller. That is, even white LGB people report a higher degree of preference for same-race partners than non-white LGB people.
In another post, I mentioned a survey of young adults’ relationship values, which found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were more open to dating people of different races and ethnicities than were heterosexuals.
Are There Any Implications?
Certainly, as I argued in an earlier post, these findings suggest that we should continue to recognize how race and ethnicity, as well as other social factors, play into our sexualities.
Some groups, particularly people of color, have access to smaller dating pools. This can translate into a number of things, including greater difficulty finding romantic sexual partners and possibly “lowering” one’s standards for potential partners.
In that earlier post, I referenced a study on gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), who do not identify as gay/bisexual. The study found that, because Black men were ranked as the least preferable partner relative to white, Latino, and Asian men, their dating pool was smaller, which increased their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Is It Racism?
The OKCupid blog post suggests that these patterns of response rates by race and ethnicity reflect the continued existence of racism in the United States. Some social scientists who have studied racial attitudes have included questions about one’s willingness to date someone of a different race or ethnicity.
But, I hesitate to suggest that a preference for one’s own race and ethnicity, or certain races and ethnicities over others, is a sign of racism. Instead, I would argue that our dating and sexual preferences are shaped by social factors, including racism.
We can see that white (Anglo) standards of beauty are still the dominant standard in the US and that people of color are pressured to meet those standards by altering their hair, skin color, even facial features through cosmetic surgery.
And, sadly, as the National Health and Social Life Survey found in the mid-1990s, partners that come from different backgrounds (e.g., education, race, religion) break up at a higher rate than partners of similar backgrounds, largely because they are not as well integrated into each others lives (e.g., friendship circles, family).
Because of family and community pressures to partner with someone of the same background, people may be less likely to even attempt to start a relationship with someone of a background different than their own.
But, it is great to see that an overwhelming majority of people were in favor of interracial marriage in the OKCupid survey – a remarkable change over the last few decades in race relations.
And, as sociologist Michael J. Rosenfeld has found in his research on marriage patterns, the number of interracial and same-sex couples in the US have increased dramatically since the 1960s, primarily because adult children have become more independent from their families and home communities.