One of the most famous posts ever featured on OKCupid’s beloved OkTrends blog was a massive examination of the ways race and ethnicity affect the online dating experience. It was one of the very first OkTrends posts ever made, way back in 2009, but the issues are still relevant today. Writer Christian Rudder has decided to revisit them in an updated post for 2014.
Back in 2009, race and attraction on OkCupid looked like this:
- Non-black men discriminated against black women
- But black men showed little racial preference either way
- All women preferred to date men of their own race
- But otherwise, they consistently discriminated against Asian and black men
So the big question is: has anything changed?
In the last five years, OkCupid users haven’t had any epiphanies of open-mindedness. In fact, Rudder notes, racial bias may have intensified a bit. See the second chart here for a demonstration.
What has noticeably changed are people's answers to match questions like "Is interracial marriage a bad idea?" and "Do you strongly prefer to date someone of your own race?" The percentage of users answering YES to those questions has been slowly trending downwards, although their actual behavior has stayed the same.
This prompts a few other questions, like:
- Are people on OkCupid just racist?
- Is it possible that a small number of users is throwing off the averages?
- Does preferring to date partners of a specific race mean you’re racist?
- Is data from an online dating site even relevant in the real world?
Rudder has all the answers.
- No, OkCupid users are no more or less racist than anyone else. Online dating data shows consistent results where race is concerned, regardless of the dating site in question. The same basic biases can be found everywhere.
- Again, these biases exist throughout the research on race and dating, not just on OkCupid. It therefore highly unlikely that a small portion of OkCupid users are affecting the data in a significant way.
- You don't have control over what foods you like and which you don't, and the same goes for your personal preferences in your dating life. Most everyone has a "type" of some kind, and it probably isn't something you actively chose. However, Rudder writes, "the trend—that fact that race is a sexual factor for so many individuals, and in such a consistent way—says something about race’s role in our society.”
- There are plenty of situations that aren't romantic that still bear a resemblance to dating. Any time you're trying to make an impression on a stranger, you're essentially going on a first date. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one,” Rudder explains, “and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture.” So sure…it's just dating data, but it reveals our definition of beauty and that's something that affects everyone, everywhere.