Researchers recently took data from the Facebook app Are You Interested and found that not only is race a factor in our online dating interests, but particular races get disproportionately high and low amounts of interest.
Of the 2.4 million heterosexual interactions researchers reviewed, the findings show:
The business site Quartz graphed these preferences using data on the percentage of "yes" responses to the "Are you interested?" question on the app. The data suggest some uncomfortable stories about racial preferences in online dating.
Back in 2009, the folks over at OKCupid culled through the site's data and similarly found that race played a big role in who would respond to messages, with some similar (and a few different) findings.
Some quick facts from the OKCupid data:
We have a conversation about the data, below, and invite you to join in too. (And if you're, um, interested in this topic, don't miss this recent conversation about it hosted by Michel Martin of NPR's Tell Me More.)
Kat Chow: What's remarkable to me is that, according to that study, most men respond to Asian women except Asian men. For a while now, we've heard of the (popularized? stereotyped?) plight of Asian men lamenting about how Asian women mostly date white guys, with videos like Wong Fu's "Yellow Fever." That stuff's not new. But why haven't we heard more about the dating preferences of Asian men?
Here's the bit from Quartz that's been fodder for some discussion:
"Unfortunately the data reveal winners and losers. All men except Asians preferred Asian women, while all except black women preferred white men."
And in case any of y'all missed it, Fusion had this hilarious interview with "Are You Interested" creator Josh Fischer and comedian Kristina Wong on Alicia Menendez Tonight.
Elise Hu: So one of my reactions to the disproportionate popularity of Asian women is, I don't see troves of men flocking to Asian women in the offline world. I wonder to what extent there's something about finding Asian women attractive online but not in "real life." Is this a preference revealed by online dating, or changed in some way by it? How would, say, the "mask" of screens affect our preferences?
Kat: Maybe. Maybe the "mask" of screens empowers/emboldens users to pursue the type of people they might not encounter in real life. But to your point about not seeing troves of men flocking to Asian women: I dunno, I feel like I see a strong "preference" for Asian women in real life. (I put "preference" in quotes, because I think there's a very fine line that teeters between preferences and fetishization, but that could be a whole other conversation.)
Elise: I actually do think there must be some of the Asian fetishization, er, "yellow fever" at play here. This just really gets in my craw, because it becomes a problem for the Asian women Am I just loved because I'm part of an ethnic group that's assumed to be subservient, or do I have actual value as an individual, or is it both? and it's a problem for men who love them Is my husband only with me 'cause he's a creepster who makes certain assumptions about me and my race, or can he legitimately be attracted to me as an individual? The results of this study only perpetuate social problems for both sexes involved.
On the flip side, it's glaring how much everybody prefers white guys and doesn't respond to black men and women. And white men never have to question whether they're attractive to others because of a fetish, that's for sure.
Kat: Dating as an Asian woman is sort of like this:
So another study about online dating and how people self-segregate on the interwebs started floating around this month.
Kevin Lewis, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, looked at more than 125,000 new OKCupid users in a 2-1/2-month period. He saw that most people didn't reach out to potential suitors who were outside their race or ethnicity, and if they did, they were less likely to get a response. But the researcher noticed that people who were contacted by someone of a different race on OKCupid were more likely to initiate contact or interact with someone of that race later on.
Elise: So where does that leave us, now? The connective tissue appears to be that race definitely matters when it comes to online dating. And that general idea is not necessarily something to get our backs up about, since even studies on babies indicate we might be wired to prefer our "in groups" to whatever we perceive as "out groups." (A Yale study of babies showed the infants that prefer Cheerios over graham crackers favored their fellow Cheerios-lovers and were not as nice to graham cracker fans.)
But the question that I'd like to see people get at is the difference between the online and offline worlds when it comes to these preferences. Or: differences between the preferences this app's users and other online dating communities. Maybe this is an app just for weirdos who love Asian chicks and don't love black women? I am annoyed for the black women who seem to be clearly getting discriminated against by these online picture-scanners.
And speaking from an Asian woman point of view, I found my time in the analog dating world to be one in which men clearly favored white women or Latinas. I am really skeptical about the odds being ever in my favor, to borrow a Hunger Games line.
Kat: I think with all these new apps rolling in, we're going to learn more about relationships and preferences. I'm just looking to get my hands on a study that delves deeply into racial preferences so if anybody knows of one, holler at me!
Elise: Yep, if this little exploration leads me to any conclusion, it's a skepticism of data from one particular dating app, since these are going to vary community by community, and I'd like to see a lot more aggregate data before getting too uncomfortable about the results. It could be that the Are You Interested dating community is just a weirdly skewed world, and now we're extrapolating all this meaning into it. To be continued ...