Posted on February 15, 2010

Seeking My Race-Based Valentine Online

Jenée Desmond-Harris, Time, February 22, 2010

This Valentine’s Day, more of us than ever will be looking for love online. And if recent studies are any guide, relatively few women on mainstream dating sites will bother to respond to overtures from men of Asian descent. Likewise, black women will be disproportionately snubbed by men of all races. {snip} requires users to identify their ethnicity; like eHarmony, it considers members’ racial preferences when suggesting matches. lets users filter their searches by race. The site’s profiles include space to indicate interest (or lack thereof) in various racial and ethnic groups. But after Jennifer House, a black woman in Los Angeles, perused one too many profiles only to find the guys had checked off every box except African American, she changed her strategy. {snip}

{snip} Behind computer screens and cutely coded user names, people clearly communicate things about race that few would ever say aloud in a bar.

For example, a study published last year in Social Science Research examined 1,558 profiles that white daters living in or near big U.S. cities placed on Yahoo! Personals, which, much like Match, lists 10 racial and ethnic groups users can select as preferred dates. Among the women, 73% stated a preference. Of these, 64% selected whites only, while fewer than 10% included East Indians, Middle Easterners, Asians or blacks.

The story is a little different for the men, 59% of whom stated a racial preference. Of these, nearly half selected Asians, but fewer than 7% did for black women. Why? One theory offered by the study’s lead author, Cynthia Feliciano, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine, is that men’s choices are influenced by the media’s portrayal of Asian women as being hypersexual and black women as being bossy.

The people running have a less nuanced explanation. {snip}

After attempting to control for attractiveness (using something OkCupid calls a picture-rating utility) and compatibility (on the basis of answers to questions covering everything from spirituality to dental hygiene), the study found that black women garnered the fewest responses of any female group. White women responded at much higher rates to white men than to men of color. Asian women’s and Latinas’ response rates showed even stronger preferences for white men. {snip}