Sunday, April 3, 2011

Study: Do People Prefer Dating Partners of Their Own Race?

Study of online dating suggests people prefer partners of their own race ...
By John Timpane

'This isn't about racism. It's about the difference between what people say their attitudes are and what they really want when they are dating."

That's Christian Rudder, cofounder of online dating site OkCupid. Rudder studied cross-racial dating on the website and published the 2009 study "How Your Race Affects the Messages You Get" on the site's blog.

The takeaways, from Rudder's survey of millions of interactions on OkCupid:

People tell polls that race makes no difference to them when shopping for a partner. Then they go ahead and pick people who look like them, people of their own race.

Black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first attempt at contact on a dating site - but men are least likely to reply to them.

White men get the most messages, but don't return them much.

White women prefer white men to the exclusion of all other groups. Asian and Latina women also prefer white men - who still don't write back much.

But then, the Web is a very white place. About 79 percent of all U.S. Internet users are white, according to media measurement service Quantcast, a little more than the 72 percent of the U.S. population that is white, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

So, just to see what would happen, Rudder corrected (hypothetically) for that imbalance. And in a study released in March, he showed the results: an across-the-board confirmation that people like their own race best.

Why all this talk about online dating? To those who think online dating is cut off from "the real world," Gerald Mendelsohn, a researcher of online dating and a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says: "It's no longer 'the real world' vs. 'the online world.' The online world is the real world for most people now."

In a 2006 study, Michael J. Rosenfeld, a Stanford University sociologist, asked 3,009 adults with partners the simple question, "How did you meet?" At one time, the most frequent response would have been "through friends or family."

Not any more. Rosenfeld found that the Internet is as common a matchmaker as friends and family. In fact, he wrote, the Internet is "displacing neighborhood, family, and the workplace as venues for meeting partners."

Mendelsohn is about to publish a study of more than one million people who use online dating sites. The study concentrates on black-white relationships, and, says Mendelsohn, it shows that "attitudes are changing, but segregation is a state of mind. It's still definitely out there."

Mendelsohn and coworkers found that white men and women are the most conservative of all races in selecting within their own race for prospective mates. Black women still tend to prefer black men. "But for black men, it's a 50/50 proposition," Mendelsohn says. "Black men are by far the most adventurous of all the race/gender groups, selecting and often marrying outside their own race at a higher rate."

How come? The brutal science of "exchange theory" says that for members of a marginalized group, there is great exchange value in marrying a member of the dominant group. "The same theory," says Mendelsohn, "predicts whites will date and marry blacks less because the advantage just isn't there."

Changes, however, are going on. "Many studies suggest a spike in interethnic marriages from 2000 to 2010," says Mendelsohn, "especially, and perhaps surprisingly, in the South, where they are nearing 1 percent of all marriages. It's higher among people of higher education, and it happens more frequently in the West, where greater numbers of ethnic groups have lived in close proximity the longest. Still, the raw number of black-white marriages is very low, only one in nine of all interethnic marriages."

As the races live and work together more and more, some see social attitudes changing accordingly. Kurt Reimer, 46, lives in Abington with his wife. He's Caucasian, and she's African American. Reimer says both sets of families are fine with it.

"I've noticed little if any disapproval among the wider society," he says by e-mail. "I can remember one or two times when a black male seemed a little put off by it, until they realized we were actually married." For Reimer, "yes, attitudes are changing, and changing in a good, healthy way."

Not everyone agrees. Catherine Fan of Philadelphia is an Asian woman whose fiancé is Caucasian. "When we go out," she says by e-mail, "it does not matter if it's Center City, Jersey Shore, Neshaminy Mall, South Philly, or the Wells Fargo Center, we get looks all the time. One time a very grandmotherly woman at Citizens Bank Park asked my fiancé, 'Couldn't you find a nice white girl to date?' And in Chinatown, I hear the remarks of passersby say, 'Why are they always going out with barbarians?' "

Fan feels supported by family, but less so by the culture at large, which she finds frustrating - "because the reality is we are all God's children, right?"

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