How do multiracial daters fare in a mainstream online dating website? A study presented to the Council on Contemporary Families by scholars at the University of Texas and University of Massachusetts reports that online daters prefer mixed-race over mono-racial individuals. The authors of “Dating Partners Don’t Always Prefer ‘Their Own Kind’: Some Multiracial Daters Get Bonus Points in the Dating Game” challenge the common belief that people with a white parent and a parent of a different racial-ethnic group, especially ones with a black parent, are always treated as “minorities.
Sociologists Celeste Curington, Ken-Hou Lin, and Jennifer Lundquist used 2003-2010 data from one of the largest dating websites in the United States to examine nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual women and men. They found that the historic preference for whites in the dating market has been replaced in some cases with a preference for multiracial individuals. Read their American Sociological Review abstract here.
Three groups received what the authors call a multiracial “dividend effect”:
- Asian-white women got the most positive response by white and by Asian men alike. They were preferred to both mono-racial whites and Asians.
- Asian and Hispanic women preferred Asian-white and Hispanic-white men (respectively), responding more frequently to the multiracial men than to either their co-ethnic men or to whites.
- White women responded the least frequently to mono-racial Asian men and to blacks, but being Asian-white bumped a man way up in white women’s preferences. They responded favorably to this group as frequently as they did to white men.
Still a persistent hierarchy: More detailed evidence in the report demonstrates further how racial barriers to dating are shifting, echoing the Pew Research Center’s report this month on the topic. Yet the authors found considerable evidence of a persistent color hierarchy—especially between blacks and whites. For example, white men and women remain less likely to respond to an individual who identifies as part black and part white than to a fellow white person. In related research, the investigators found that black women send few messages to men who are not also black but are more responsive when non-black men reach out to them, leading the authors to conclude that black women expect rejection if they initiate contacts with men of other ethnicities.
Explanations for multiracial dividend effects: “Some cases,” the authors argue, “seem to be closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness.” They also suggest that the preference of white and Asian men for white-Asian women may reflect “the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic. Likewise, Asian and Hispanic women may have been influenced by the media’s increasing portrayal of multiracial men as attractive, chic, and trendy.” Alternatively, Asian and Hispanic women may believe that a man who is part white and part Asian or Hispanic may represent an especially attractive mix of both worlds when it comes to gender and cultural norms.
Historical and demographic context: The authors propose that their findings suggest a growing blurring of romantic racial boundaries. Despite powerful historic, demographic and cultural patterns perpetuating such boundaries, the changes these authors detect may portend coming shifts in future interracial relationships.
After a U.S. history of legal prohibitions on interracial coupling that ended formally in 1967 with the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court decision, approval of interracial marriage has reached unprecedented highs, according to Gallup. Even so, interracial dating and marriages have increased at a slow rate, and many have demonstrated that this is related to colorism—that is the discrimination against people with darker skin and preferences for people with lighter skin—and to other institutional barriers, such as racially-based economic inequality.
At the same time, the slow and yet growing rate of interracial romance has produced a growing number of children of multiracial parentage. In 2013, according to Pew, 6.3 percent of marriages were mixed-race—nearly a quadrupling of the proportion in 1980. Ten percent of children under one (who lived with two parents) had parents of different races. As these changes lead to a growing multiracial population, is it possible that the multiracial dividend will be extended, or at least begin to counter some of the racial penalties that have existed in the dating and marriage market? Or will individuals perceived as mono-racial blacks fall even further behind?
Originally Posted 7/13/15