The mixed-race advantage in online dating

August 19, 2014
August 19, 2014

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of research energy devoted to untangling the racial hierarchies in online dating, where white men and Asian women seem to come out the top. However, in a new study released yesterday, researchers say that in some cases multiracial daters are even more desirable than those of any single racial group, even whites.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and University of Texas-Austin and relied on 2003-2010 data from a major US dating website, which they did not identify. The researchers looked at nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual men and women in the following groups: Asian, black, Hispanic, white, Asian-white, black-white, and Hispanic-white.

The breakthrough came when the researchers found that three multiracial groups were favored more than anyone else, something they referred to as the “bonus effect.” These three groups were Asian-white women, who were viewed more favorably than all other groups by white and Asian men, and Asian-white and Hispanic-white men, who were given “bonus” status by Asian and Hispanic women.

The study’s authors could not definitively say why these three partly white multiracial groups were particularly favored, but Celeste Vaughan Curington, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and lead author of the study, speculated that “daters may be influenced by the popular media’s representation of mixed-race people as ‘exotic’ and sexually appealing.”

This “bonus effect,” which the researchers said was “truly unheard of in the existing sociological literature,” goes against the long established “one drop rule” amongst American sociologists. Usually applied to people with partial African descent, the rule essentially states that multiracial people even who are even a small part non-white are viewed simply as part of the lower-status (non-white) group.

Not so in online dating, where a multiracial identity is embraced, the researchers assert:

Rather, overall, the researchers found that white-minority multiracial daters (e.g., black-white daters) are viewed more favorably than their monoracial minority counterparts (e.g., black daters). “We find that ‘honorary whiteness,’ in the form of what we call ‘white equivalence’ and ‘multiracial inbetweenness,’ seems to be the most frequent way that both white men and women and some minority groups generally categorize white-minority multiracial people,” Curington said.

This latest study, presented Aug. 18 at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, adds to the growing body of scholarship on race relations gleaned from the world of online dating—where there are perhaps fewer inhibitions about expressing racial preferences though clicks, and those choices are easy to aggregate.

The chart below, which Quartz published last year based on data provided by the Facebook dating app Are You Interested, indicates that a majority of men in each racial group, except Asians, preferred Asian women, while all groups except black women showed a preference for white men. Also, interestingly, all men preferred a race other than their own.

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