Racial Bias in Online Dating

A follow-up to The Digital Age of Love

The distinction between personal preference and racial bias is not often clear when it comes to dating. In our podcast episode, I wish we would have had more time and content to explore this topic, as I think it’s important when considering the potential costs and benefits of digital dating platforms. As mentioned in the podcast, OKCupid released data in 2014 that reported racial preferences on their site by gender from 2009 through 2014. The data show that a clear racial bias against certain groups has remained relatively consistent over the six years the data was collected. Interestingly, this contrasts with survey data we collected for our podcast, in which white people were self-reported as the lowest percentage of users who match with people of their same race. There seems to be a clear discrepancy between racial attitudes and dating behavior, which makes examining the effects of online dating confusing.

The measurement that OKCupid uses to determine preference towards a certain group is called “Quick Match Score,” which they define as the likelihood of a specific group to want to interact with a different one in their dating lives. It is reported in a percentage compared to the average, with positive percentages meaning above average match scores and a negative percentage meaning below average match scores. For example, black women have negative match scores from all men except black men. The same is true of asian and black men, who only have positive scores from women of their own race. In general, women are much more likely than men to date along racial lines, whereas men only show noticeable discrimination toward black women. In the Death, Sex & Money episode “Why You’re Not Having Sex,” Jihan, a black women from the UK, says her race is often fetishized while dating. Strangely, she did not experience this the same level of fetishization when she was abroad, which suggests that our racial preferences are more culturally influenced than inherent.

Racial Bias in Dating Infographic
Course: Death, Sex & Money
2018

OkCupid also surveyed users about their racial attitudes when dating. Their results show general downward trends in discriminatory attitudes, even when their behavior remained consistent. This may explain why our survey results show less bias; perhaps people are adhering to societal pressures to appear more inclusive without changing behavior.

After reading about decreased sexual activity in today’s young adults (Twenge, Sherman & Wells), we discussed as a class how our generation has to navigate a new landscape when it comes to dating today. Often times these new expectations are unclear, such as who pays for a date or how the relationship is labeled. Platforms such as dating apps introduce another new set of social norms to adapt to. I’d like to come to some sort of conclusion on race and digital dating, but it’s too new of a phenomenon to predict with certainty how online dating has or will change society. While the consistency of the OKCupid data suggests that we are definitely exercising racial bias in online dating, online platforms do not appear to further exasperate this discrimination. Instead, our racial attitudes are likely culturally based. Perhaps over time and with more exposure to racial diversity, online platforms and apps may actually become more inclusive dating spaces.

References

OkCupid. 2014. “Race and Attraction, 2009-2014” Retrieved from: https://theblog.okcupid.com/race-and-attraction-2009-2014-107dcbb4f060

Sale, Anna. 2015. “Why You’re Not Having Sex.” WNYC Studios.

Twenge, Jean L. & Sherman, Ryne A. & Wells, Brooke E. 2016. “Sexual Inactivity During Young Adulthood Is More Common Among U.S. Millennials and iGen: Age, Period, and Cohort Effects on Having No Sexual Partners After Age 18.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 46(2), 433-440. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0798-z.

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