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)


I am a middle-aged multicultural female raised in a predominantly white culture and have been dating on line for more than 20 years -- 95% white men, my personal preference. I have had some really fun experiences and have met some really great guys, for the most part, all of whom knew I was black when they originally wrote to me (I had really bad luck when I initiated the connection). Alas, I fell in love with a gentleman whom I initially rejected twice before we connected and we dated for 6 months. Unfortunately, he quit me a week after we were discriminated against by a white waitness at an upscale restaurant. I guess he couldn't manage the humiliation once that I've been living with my whole life.

That Iboboy.

Wow! Middle eastern female??
Would that be our face covering friends?
The only race to get a green band across the board, with even black men drooling for them more than white females.(See reply rates: female sender)
So Arab chics are the new white then?
Did i miss something here!!

One would have to dismiss this one as a "yeah yeah yeah whatever" article.
The only thing depressing here is Mr Ayres condescending attitude towards black women.
Since when did he become a champion for their cause!?

As for Jack at number 8 and your "uglier than average" comment about black women, you should understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The most attractive women i have seen happen to be from my neck of the woods in Nigeria, and trust me i have travelled the world. Perhaps you need to do the same.

Why does anybody bother with what comes down to personal choices anyway.
Does it matter?
One cannot help the way they feel, period.
I am Nigerian and prefer black women with robust thighs.
Yes i am racist and thighist. So what!


Jennie C

Jack sucks.

The faster black women can get rid of him with a nonresponse, the better their dating lives will be anyway.


To Jack @ 3:06pm and 6:47pm

First you wrote that race is not a cause for unattractiveness but a marker. But then you wrote about most men being more attracted to light skinned women than dark skinned women simply because of skin color. Though skin color and race don't always correlate, I am having a hard time reconciling these two comments.

I also don't completely buy the theory that since sub-Saharan African cultures generally prefer lighter skinned women that it is not due to white influence. White people have a heavy influence in many countries, even ones where they don't live.


Complementary, not complimentary.


I am an African-American male, 54 yrs. old, college graduate, I work in the federal government in DC. My educational background is a Ph.D. in International Relations & Policy.

The last time an African-American female had a serious interest in me was was my third year of undergrad. Thank god I speak four different languages or I suspect I never would have gotten laid!!!


Hmmm .... lots of hostility toward black women in the comment section (not to mention sheer ugliness and outright racism) -- despite the fact that black women commissioned neither the data report nor wrote this blog, nor had anything to do with this at all.


And among NY Times readers, supposedly the "progressive and enlightened" of America.

All of which, it seems, confirms the thrust, if not the details, of the blog.

David Whitney

Am I the only one who noticed the response rate to Middle Eastern female senders is far and away above that to other females? In 7 of 9 male responder race categories, Middle Eastern females get the highest response rate. Even the exceptions are interesting. What gives with Middle Eastern men and their 60% response rate to Asian Pacific females?


This is old news. You should have written a column on this back in October of last year, when the OkCupid study first came out and became viral on the web. BTW, OkCupid does a whole slew of relationship number-crunching, and it's a great site to visit for the insights that they glean from analyzing their user base.

You (and they) are partially wrong about Black women, though. Black women themselves don't really want to date outside their race. They are some of the most race-conscious women when it comes to dating! (second only to Hispanics).


These statistics tell us nothing about the attractiveness of black women... they tell us only about the stupidity and mental banality of the average white American male!
Non-white women are lucky... they're saved by white male prejudice from going out with the sort of materialistic, nasty, vicious, arrogant, egotistical, entitled male that looks for women online based on their photograph. This is the same kind of man that ignores his blonde bimbo once he has her, spends every night out drinking beer with his buddies, leaves his clothes all over the house, spends his time looking at pornography, and cheats on his wife behind her back.


70% of black births are out of wedlock; when you give something away for free, it's perceived value diminishes.
That's why.


As a white male who is engaged to an African American female, this data shows that a whole lot of men may be missing out on a huge population of amazing women.

I also think that the "wanting what you can't have" element is interesting. While white males respond (nearly) most rarely to african american females, when a white man messages an African American female, she's more likely to respond to the white man than any other race of woman.

Moriah Brown

This is so silly. Why would OKCupid be the considered the dating site of choice for Americans in general or for Black women specifically? What percentage of people frequent dating sites? What is the age demographic? You are comparing minorities groups with the majority. You'd have to do some weighting and normalize the data.

I think Ian has a hidden hater side.

Black women are always portrayed in the negative by the time and Freakonomics. We're used to it. President Obama is married to a black woman. Amb Susan Rice is married to a white man and Melanie Barnes to a Black man, and Valerie Jarrett is single. That's a sample that is at least as valid as Ian's

BTW, why would the 15 white women willing to have tell all sex with a married Tiger Woods be considered an elite group for Black women to be member of? A few of them were in the porn business. Get real Ian.


Jack @ 6:47pm, you must have little to no knowledge of history. A survey in sub-Saharan Africa in the 70s and 80s would undoubtedly contain preferences strongly influenced by the colonial experience. In many cases, colonial powers gave preferential treatment to lighter-skinned Africans and thus socialized a 'preference' for lighter-complexions. The effect of this differential treatment is still felt today.

The fact that the authors of your post "suggested that lighter skin color may be attractive because of its association with infancy and youth" rather than the impact of colonialism initially and the domination of European standards of beauty in the media subsequently suggests to me that the amount of rigour in their analysis is minimal.


Has anyone been to OKC? It's not exactly a minimalist/neutral site, the way Craigslist, Yahoo Personals or match.com tries to be. Its design and themes are of a "quirky" nature. In other words, the site is, however unintentionally, for whites (of a certain subculture including indie rock, Wes Anderson, and xkcd) and those who want to date them (minorities with similar cultural interests, if not racial fetishes). Plus nonwhites have ethnic dating sites like shaadi.com.


To # 35,

re: 70% out of wedlock black births

abortion, fertility, monagamy has nothing to do with it.

The vast majority of black women are in households with no males around....ever.
However, offspring from multiple un-related males are the norm.

Thats indisputable.

The result is the welfare-mom poverty cycle....not some romantic/free love fantasy you suggest,

When men see that 70% of females in a population dont enforce commitments of their partners fatherhood obligations....it teaches males to shirk any future responsibilities as well.


We need error bars.


Some black male stats:

50% unemployed
10% incarceration rate
30% of jail populations
High mortality
high poverty

They are just not alive, employed, have email access or free to hit reply !


Sorry, this study is useless without controls. Guess we'll have to wait for the PhD dissertation for that.

I have no idea what other data OK Cupid collects, but wasn't it Freakonomics itself that correlated income with response rate? Covariance anyone?

Of course, I still fail to see why this is depressing or why anyone should feel like they have to apologize for it. Preferences are preferences.

really, guys?

Uh, the reason the article doesn't mention the plight of asian men is because the data given don't suggest that asian men get screwed on responses worse than most of the minorities.

The asian male line for male sender-female response is pretty similar to the black, hispanic, latin, and indian lines, and only differs from "other" and "middle eastern" for two categories of respondent. Yeah, we get screwed compared to white guys, but so does everyone else apparently.