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What Keeps Online Dating Segregated (and How to Fix It)

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Online dating — as well as regular dating — is a very segregated activity, but a new study suggests that it may not take much to break racial and ethnic barriers.

As much as we like to think that America is a postracial society, Americans still prefer to date someone from their race. Studies have shown that this preference is stronger than almost any other when it comes to finding mates, although it’s not entirely clear why.

But an intriguing new study of online dating by sociologist Kevin Lewis at the University of California, San Diego, and published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that people might be limiting their choices out of a fear that they’re not attractive to other races.

Lewis examined the interactions of 126,134 newly signed-up members of the online-dating website OKCupid over two and a half months. He found that, indeed, most people very rarely strayed beyond their own ethnicity in reaching out to potential dates. And if they did, they were less likely to get a response than from people of their same race. White folks, both male and female, overwhelmingly made more contact with whites, which is hardly surprising since there are more white people on the site to choose from. White folks were the most likely to seek out people of another race. Minority groups (those who identify themselves on OKCupid as black, Hispanic, Indian or Asian) were much more likely to stay in their own racial lane when in search of mates online.

Only Asian women didn’t fit this trend. They were more likely to contact white guys than other Asian guys, which my Asian girlfriends tell me is because, in part, they’re not fans of the traditional role that girlfriends and wives have played — and continue to play — in many Asian societies. They were more likely to respond to white guys too, but then again, all races were most likely to respond to white guys.

(MORE: Love Isn’t Color-Blind: White Online Daters Spurn Blacks)

The preferences weren’t immutable, however. Lewis found that once people had been approached by somebody from a different race, or had gotten a response from one, they were more likely to initiate contact or respond to someone from that race in future interactions. In fact, these people logged 115% more interracial exchanges in the two-and-a-half-month study period between them than OKCupid members of a similar background and region who had not been contacted by a person from another race. And the groups who did the most in-race dating were the groups who showed most marked change. Interestingly, though, getting a message from a black guy didn’t mean that women would look at all other races. It just meant they’d look at other black guys.

Again Asian women were among the outliers; once contacted by someone from another race, their interracial exchanges went up 238%. For Asian men it was 222%, and for black women it was more than 100%.

Lewis couldn’t tell how extensive the contacts were — whether these people had just exchanged pleasantries or had actually gone on dates or made it to the aisle. But the first contact seemed to be a key event.

(MORE: Why We Don’t Trust Online-Dating Sites — but Use Them Anyway)

Reaching out to someone of a different ethnic background may be awkward because online users engage in what Lewis calls “pre-emptive discrimination.” That is, they expect — based on the way race has shaped their lives so far — rejection, or at the very least, to have little in common with someone who doesn’t share their heritage. This would explain why white people, who are likely to have experienced the least racial discrimination, feel most comfortable about crossing the ethnic line. But, says Lewis, his data suggests that if someone — more likely a man, according to the data — makes the first move, and overcomes his fear of rejection, online daters realize the pool of potential partners may be wider and richer than they had previously imagined, and they tend to initiate more interracial contacts and to respond to ones that come their way more often.

Lewis is the first to admit that the study is small and has obvious limitations. But it does seem to provide something that’s been lacking from the world of online-dating trends — some hopeful news that biases may be breaking down and discrimination may be getting weaker as people text their way to love. It also may prove that Asian women may have already figured out what the folks in Lewis’ study are just finding out — that there’s no harm in reaching out to someone who doesn’t look or think like you. You never know what you’ll find.

16 comments
mindwars7
mindwars7

The thing with black women as being least approached, has to do with how they are viewed. BW are viewed as being loud, contentious and hard to deal with. In many cases the stereotype fits. Asian women are seen to belong to closed society, hence many feel that they will be rejected when approaching them.

Noswagnegro
Noswagnegro

The title does not make any sense people like who the like there is no segregation. There is nothing to fix.

tysandsnyc
tysandsnyc

@DarylBrunt @JimMnSegregation is defined as the act of setting apart from the others based on a quality, feature, or view point of an individual.  So yeah, you all do segregate once you think about it.


The Black women thing not dating outside their race has been old news to me, the new news was the fact that people are more interested in Asian women than white woman, in an interracial sense of being.


I know several White and Black men that would never look in an Asian woman's way, or so they claim.


As for Black women being the least approached, I think this has a lot to do with their inability to embrace cosmetic procedures like their White counterparts.  Also, the lack of seeing Black women in sexual roles might have something to do with it as well.  Both Black women and Asian men are the least to be seen in roles that deals with human sexuality, but I believe it's slowly changing for Black women with the birth of this Black women on White man love they are now showing in drama shows.

DarylBrunt
DarylBrunt

Stupid Article. Dating is about attraction, implying that people are actually attracted to something other than their preference and their ethnic and racial prejudices are standing in the way is pathetically ignorant. I like Latin, Asian, Mixed and some Coloured...I dislike Black and most Caucasian...does that make me racist because I am not attracted to the majority of my own racial group? 

JimMn
JimMn

How about the simple fact that I'm not at all physically attracted to Asian women or black women? There's no conscious decision, there's just no feeling at all.

volucre
volucre

I love how the media pretends to scratch its head and puzzle over this "strange phenomenon" of race in dating and offer farfetched explanations for it, when any 25 year old a few drinks in could offer an explanation that is 100x more convincing (and less politically correct).

Dwyndle
Dwyndle

Actually, I might have a different interpretation of the Asian female-to-white-male connection. If Asian females are initiating contact with white males it may be as much because they have some expectation of being accepted as anything.

For about 20 years now, I have observed many more white guys dating and marrying Asian females. I strongly suspect that it's because they (erroneously, and stereotypically, but that's part of the package) see Asian females as the "submissive, compliant" females they want, or believe they need, to assuage their bruised egos in the face of the global women's movement towards equalizing gendered relationships.

They (male WASPs) seem to feel that women have abandoned their "proper roles" as wives and homemakers and have absorbed some inane propaganda about Asian females that is neither true nor flattering....in fact, the latter may appear submissive in public, but I have personally observed very strong interactions in mixed couples that suggest the private and more intentional component to the Asian female's part in the relationship is anything but placid and compliant.

This dynamic (which I've noticed both publicly and privately in an East Coast city for at least 20 years now) has meant that white females are looking elsewhere as well. I wouldn't say that it's exactly a "Well, they've stolen our men so we'll play the field" situation but the ongoing work (again, of mostly white, better-off females--it's admittedly still a first-world problem) towards more covalence in relational power situations suggests to me that things may be more fluid than expected for different reasons than expected.

One of those being that a certain resistant strain of white male--i.e., the more conservative (OK, block-headed ) ones--persists in their refusal to move into the 21st century and realize that they might benefit from some of the equalization that so-called "women's lib" has in fact worked on their behalf as well. (And that oriental wives are not harem objects.)

But being block-headed is part of what they value in themselves, so of course, they wont..

rremingtonwier
rremingtonwier

The "Melting Pot" is an artificial concept, forced upon societies by governments, laws, and military conquest. It is resisted in societies by cultures, traditions, and religions. It does not occur naturally in nature.

herbygee22
herbygee22

While we have evolved greatly, I do not believe that we have to be equal opportunity employers in matters of the heart. Those who do wish to date people of other races or ethnic groups have the absolute right to do so which is the progress we have made. Those who prefer to date people within their own race or religion still have that same right. You cannot call someone a bigot for making their own choices.

Robine
Robine

Who one is intimate with is a most personal matter. Sexual preferences aren't something "to fix."

And the MSM never seems to pass up a chance for a black male/white female photo op.

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

Diversity is strength comrade.

jg91947
jg91947

This is a seriously confused and misleading article. Why is preferring to date a member of one's own race any more biased than preferring someone with a certain religion, nationality, or lifestyle?  Are devout christians endorsing segregation when they choose to date only other christians?  What about english speakers preferring to date other english speakers?  Are gays and lesbians demonstrating intolerance when they restrict themselves to same-sex partners? 

VolomonNetwork
VolomonNetwork

@DarylBrunt  "I dislike Black and most Caucasian...does that make me racist because I am not attracted to the majority of my own racial group?".....It means you have self hating issues.

volucre
volucre

For instance, in college, I knew many Asian girls who explained that they tended to date white guys because they considered most Asian men too nerdy or emasculated.  As they got older, they revised this explanation to the more socially appropriate "I don't date men who are too controlling about my gender role, and many Asian men retain this behavior based on old Asian culture."  But if you actually look at what Asian men they do date, it tends to be the strapping athletes, not the progressive-minded activists for women's rights.  Which suggests that they were being more honest in their original explanation.

NaveedXVO
NaveedXVO

@jg91947 She hasn't got there yet, but you just wait. Everything must be equalized. I wonder if she practices what she preaches though. Probably not.