Racial preferences in online dating

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In September of 2014, Christian Rudder, cofounder of the online dating website OkCupid, released research on race and attraction from 2009 to 2014 that was compiled through interactions on OkCupid. While the study found that interracial relationships are rising year by year, OkCupid’s research raises an interesting question: Are racial biases in dating and attraction actually decreasing, or have they gotten worse?

“Culture plays a tremendously important role in determining our perceptions of attractiveness,” said Dr. Robin A. Flaton, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University. “When white parents stop their children from choosing a black doll they are indirectly giving them a message about what is acceptable and attractive.”

OkCupid’s study found that men typically find women of the same race attractive, though black men showed little racial preference, while non-black men rated black women poorly in terms of attractiveness. Similarly, women prefer men of their own race and tend to find Asian and black men less attractive. The visuals below shows a user’s racial preference of a potential suitor compared to the average user of any race.

The graphs below show the attraction “preferences vs. the average.” Basically, they show  For example, this first graph shows that, in 2014, Asian men found Asian women to be 15% more attractive than the average woman.

Source: OkCupid; Charts: Josh Wilson

“In American society,” Dr. Flaton said, “whiteness equals all that is good, while blackness is all that is bad.” OkCupid’s research supports this claim. The popular dating website allows for users to select more than one race. The numbers showed that “whiteness” improved the ratings of other races.

OkCupid used a scale of 1-5 (least to highest) to rate attractiveness.

OkCupid used a scale of 1-5 (least to highest) to rate attractiveness. Source: OkCupid

For years, online dating has attempted to make a science out of human emotion and attraction. Chances are that if you are using an online dating website or mobile dating apps, you’ll find yourself matching up with people who are a lot like you – likely of the same race, ethnicity, and religion. This isn’t the case only on niche dating websites (such as BlackPeopleMeet or ChristianMingle), but can also be said about non-specialty websites and apps, such as OkCupid and Tinder.

“We also tend to develop our preferences based on the people that we grew up with,” Dr. Flaton added. “[We find] their qualities and characteristics to be more physically attractive.”

Steven G. Wolff, a Junior Radio Production and Studies student at Hofstra University, has used OkCupid, Tinder, and JSwipe (a dating app for Jewish people) to meet women in the area. Wolff said that his father hopes that he will one day marry a Jewish woman, but also said that he feels it would benefit him to be with someone who shares the same religious views. Many people feel similar and choose to date and marry within their race, ethnicity, and religion, and because of this, there are niche dating websites that cater specifically to these people.

There are, however, some dating websites that are designed to encourage interracial, interfaith, and other mixed couples. Aside from these websites, a question can be raised about other niche dating websites that restrict suitors based of race, religion, etc.: Are niche dating websites that allow users to choose from a field of potential suitors convenient ways to improve the online dating experience, or do they further cultural divides and encourage intensified biases?

Acc0rding to a Pew Research Center poll that was released last month, 15 percent of American adults have used, or a currently using, online dating sites or mobile dating apps. These dating methods are here to stay and are growing more and more popular, so what does a website like OkCupid do to encourage diversity in their matchmaking? That much has yet to be seen, and OkCupid chose not to comment on the matter.