Racial Barriers In Online Dating Are Breakable

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A new study reveals that racial barriers within online dating aren’t as strong as one might expect.

The study, conducted by sociologist Kevin Lewis of the University of California, San Diego, examined the first interactions of 126,134 new OKCupid members over two and a half months. 

Lewis found that, on the whole, people mostly stayed within their own ethnicity when contacting people on the site.

So despite an increase in interracial marriage – 8.4% of all current marriages in the US are interracial, up from 3.2% in 1980 – racial prejudice does seem to be a factor when looking for a potential partner. 

However, Lewis found that once someone had been contacted by someone outside their own race, they were far more likely to contact or reply to someone from that race.

Over the study period, those who had been contacted by someone of another race increased their interracial exchanges by 115% – in comparison to someone of similar background who didn’t receive such contact.

Lewis says this shows that daters are “foregoing options because we don’t think the people would be interested in us and the data suggest otherwise.”

He calls this “pre-emptive discrimination”.

“Part of the reason site users, and especially minority site users, do not express interest in individuals from a different racial background is because they anticipate – based on a lifetime of experiences with racism – that individuals from a different background will not be interested in them.

“But if a person of another race expresses interest in them first, their assumptions are falsified and they are more willing to take a chance on people of that race in the future.”

The report, entitled “The limits of racial prejudice” was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Here are some other findings of the study:

  • White people overwhelmingly made contact with other whites, but were most likely to seek out other races.
  • Once contacted by another race, exchanges went up significantly. Asian woman increased their interracial exchanges by 238%, Asian men by 222%, and black women by 100%.
  • Asian women were the only group who did not fit the trend of contacting the same race, they were far more likely to contact white men.
  • Asian and Indian users were most likely to contact someone from their own ethnic background.

But although people were more likely to contact those from another ethnicity after receiving contact from someone in that group – this was not permanent.

“Once people go out and start initiating ties across racial boundaries, the odds of getting a reply are still relatively small. No one likes rejection,” said Lewis.

“These cross-race interactions are still by far the exception to the norm. People go out and have this newfound optimism about interracial messaging, and all of a sudden, no one replies. People revert to their prior habits.”

And yet Lewis believes the study shows preconceived notions are susceptible to change due to the choice and the removal of social barriers that the online dating world brings.

Read the report here.