The Complex Relationship Between Online Dating And Race

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People who participate in online dating may be more open to interracial relationships than those who stick solely to traditional dating, says a study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego analyzed the first interactions of 126,134 American OkCupid users to study the complex relationship tween online dating and race. They found, unsurprisingly, that many users tended to send messages to other users of their own race – but they also found that they were much more likely to respond to messages from users of a different racial background. The study also found that once an individual responded to a member of another race, they were even more likely to initiate conversation with other users of different ethnicities in the future.

"It's not that people's levels of prejudice are changing; people are avoiding others from a different racial background because they think those other people won't be interested," study author Kevin Lewis, a sociologist for UC San Diego, told USA Today. "Receiving an interracial contact and replying to it makes you send over twice as many new interracial messages in the short-term future than you would have otherwise."

Online daters may be chipping away at racial barriers, but that doesn't mean they've fallen completely. "Race as a dividing factor is much more important than basically any other attribute," Lewis explained. The study found that white online daters, both male and female, overwhelmingly made contact with other white users (although that's also due to the fact that there are more white people on OkCupid to choose from). Caucasian users were also the most likely to seek out people of another race. Those who identified as black, Hispanic, Indian or Asian were much more likely to stay within their own racial lane while online dating.

The only group that consistently bucked the trend was Asian women. Asian women were more likely to contact white men and other Asian men. They were also more likely to respond to white men (though it's important to note that all races were most likely to respond to white men).

Lewis calls online daters’ reluctance to reach out to users of different ethnic backgrounds "pre-emptive discrimination." Based on the way race has shaped their lives so far, they expect to experience rejection – or at least to have little in common with someone who doesn't share their heritage. But, says Lewis, the study suggests that if someone is bold enough to make the first move and overcome their fear of rejection, they are rewarded with the realization that the pool of potential partners is wider and richer than they had ever imagined.