Race and Romance: An Uneven Playing Field for Black Women

John Mayer has recently been criticized for?crude remarks he made in an interview, suggesting that he was not sexually attracted to African-American women.? Tiger Woods‘s alleged actions suggest a similar preference (Bill Maher quipped “He doesn’t need sex rehab; he needs diversity training”).

A fascinating but depressing?analysis of messaging at OkCupid.com suggests that discriminatory male preferences are a wider phenomenon.

We’ve written?before about?oktrends.com, an associated blog where the dating service is refreshingly open about reporting the results of all kinds of interesting number crunching.? (I predict that the website’s database will become the basis for more than one Ph.D. dissertation.) OkTrends looked at “the messaging habits of over a million people.”? They wanted to find out what happens after one user sends a message to another user.? Does the recipient write back?

The basic result is that the race of the sender matters a lot – even after taking into account the user-defined level of compatibility.

OkCupid measures compatibility by the “match percentage,” which is based on the degree to which users give the answer desired by another user (and the level of importance the other user assigned to the question).? Look at how nicely the reply rate tracks the match percentage:

Graph: OkTrends

In words, message recipients are more likely to respond to messages from senders with higher match percentages.

What I’d really like to see is the line for particular sender/recipient race pairs.? For example, what happens when the sender is a black woman and the recipient is a white man?? But there are so many permutations (regarding sex, race and sender/receiver status) that there would be many, many lines to analyze.

Still, the following chart shows that the average quality of the match for different racial permutations is roughly similar:


The post says:

As you can see, the races all match each other roughly evenly: good news. It means all other things being equal, two people, of whatever race, should have the same chance to have a successful relationshp.

But depressingly, men of all races write back to African-American women at markedly lower rates.? As shown in this chart:


Men (including African-American men) write back to African-American women at about a 20% lower rate.? This result is somewhat reminiscent of the?famous resume study done by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, which found that employers who place want ads were less likely to respond to resumes from people with African-American sounding names.

But in some ways the OkCupid result is even more depressing than the racial disparities found in employment.? It seems that OkCupid doesn’t match couples where the match would be inconsistent with an explicit racial preference of a user.? So these racial disparities persist even after excluding users who have stated an explicit racial preference.

The white male recipient column also suggests an interesting supply-demand effect.? This mostly yellow column indicates that white males are less likely to write back to women of any race, but they are “fairly even-handed about it.”? As summarized by the post:

The average reply rate of?non-white males is?48.1%, while white guys’ is only?40.5%. Basically, they write back about 20% less often.

The messaging analysis suggests that your willingness to write back might be an inverse function of how willing others are to respond to you.? Compare, for example, this complimentary chart concerning male senders:


White men may be pickier about responding to messages that they?receive in part because they are more likely to receive responses when they?send a message (shown here in the higher percentages found in the white-male sender row).

In contrast, African-American women, who get markedly fewer responses when they write, are much less picky when they?receive a message (shown by the greener black female recipient column).

Unfortunately, it’s not just?new car bargaining where African-American women seem to face an uphill battle.

(HT: Noah Messing)

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  1. AC says:

    Why is it that your headline only gives pity to black women while ignoring female racism against Asian men?

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    • Ali says:

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    • lysysloik says:

      check black male- they are in worse position than asial male

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  2. Kevin says:

    Interesting stuff. Did the author have any theories on why AA female receive fewer response?

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  3. CC says:

    That is interesting. The conventional wisdom (and my understanding is that there are studies of some sort to back it up) is that, approximately, men don’t care about race in dating but women do. That is, same-race dating preferences are largely driven by women’s preferences.

    However, this seems at odds with that.

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  4. $ says:

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  5. L.Benson says:

    This is kind of interesting. I remember a post from a long time ago on here that discussed a study of speed dating. If i remember correctly, men didnt seem to take race into account as much as women did in that setting. I wonder what the findings for women overall would be on OkCupid.

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  6. Kay Barry says:

    Doesn’t OKCupid compile these statistics using polls from the users of its site?

    If so, then if most of the site’s users are white men, and the white men on the site don’t prefer black women, then wouldn’t it follow that the responses would be lower for black women?

    I think statistics should be compiled at ethnic sites such as BlackPeopleMeet.com. A black woman would be guaranteed to get a 100 percent response because men (of all races) would use the site to find her.

    Actually, the blog post did a great service. A black woman now knows not to waste her money on OKCupid when the response rate is so low. She should spend her money where she is welcome and is sure to find someone to date.

    I think that the tone of the blog post implies that black women are discriminated against because of the low response rate from white men. This is simply not true. When did acceptance by white men on one dating site become a measure of racial bias?

    The low response rate could be for reasons such as fewer black women are into online dating and may be using other ways to meet someone online.

    Also, the rate of interracial dating between black women and white men is lower than that of black men and white or Asian women, so that could account for lower response rates too.

    Then again, there may only be 20 black women subscribers on the site.

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  7. Greg says:

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    • AnOutlier says:

      i think they avoided the need to due what you are requesting by stating in the beginning that across the races, the match percentages were about even. the match percentages take into account things such as body weight, occupation preference, age bracket, and these external factors.
      so having all those percentages even meant that something else was playing into mate preferences on OkCupid. And that why why they only posted specific statistics about race…

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