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:

DESCRIPTIONGraph: OkTrends

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:

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: OkTrends

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:

DESCRIPTIONGraph: OkTrends

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)


not okay

Is this an attempt to stem the tide of interracial dating between white men and black women? Has anyone walked the streets of NY lately? Or watched the media (advertising, television, movies) field day with these recently in vogue relationships?

The other interesting phenomenon is that more African American women than ever are considering dating out of race for the first time. And reluctantly so....

The bottomline is that this piece was a terrible idea. Aesthetics are determined by images we see in the media. This piece just adds layers to the trash heap.

Shame on you NYT.

Sean

This report is not scientific and the article is even worse. Even with all the numbers in this article, there is really no discernable pattern here. Although the prediction that "the website's database will become the basis for more than one Ph.D. dissertation" is intended to give it some veracity, I question the significance of responses to messages as evidence of anything. (especially if this in response to a poll and not actual usage as suggested by #6)

There are too many other unexplored variables to make this meaningful at all. Perhaps this site is simply frequented by men and women who prefer a white mate, even though they may not specify a preference. This is just one example.

My question is this: How much does the blogger get paid to plant this article?

Tired

Tired of black women acting like victims. Look at the numbers, a black male is 9 points more likely to respond to a black female (37 v. 28). Also, it seems that black women are more likely to respond to every other racial group. And then wonder why the three black men who survived your filters and list aren't into you.

The answer to your loneliness, date an asian male.

D

Black male incarceration plus homicide rates plus, of the remaining black men, their unusual preference for non-black women (relative to other groups' intra-racial preferences), and you have scarcity effects causing black women to behave and compete more intensely and desperately.

Unfortunately, many of these behaviors and their side effects (massively higher STD rates, out of wedlock children, etc) are unattractive to most men. Vicious cycle.

Chris in Baltimore

On your first chart, notice how the reply rate is essentially flat between match percentages of ~57-94%? My strong suspicion would be that the VAST majority of messages are sent to people in that uninformative match range (much below 57% or so you're just obviously not going to be compatible and above 94% is rare), in which case, match% is a very poor predictor of true compatibility among people who message each other (as measured by reply rate), rendering this entire exercise useless.

A second problem is that, even were match% a good predictor for the majority of messages, and thus on average all races were equally compatible with each other, that still wouldn't mean that racism was the cause of the differential reply rates, because it might be the case that different races have different THRESHOLDS for choosing to write to different races: for example, perhaps black females have a low reply rate because they send out lots of messages to men with low compatibilities.

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Frank

I think the graphics suggest the nature of inter-racial dating and pairing is tricky. We are led to believe it is harder to date across racial lines. It might be. I simply don't think the information garnered here "says" anything. It is gathered data. We are all basically racist on some level. If that means a positive racism or negative it is still racism. In dating online there is a level of removal too that precludes knowing someone. You work off of your own biases.

WW

NEWS FLASH: Nothing like being a white guy in America.

Diana

Right on time, the weekly pity black women and their desperately lonely lives story.

I am one of those educated black women who, according to the media, sobs into her cup-o-noodles every night since I will never be loved by anyone and am most grievously to be pitied for my sad and tragic life. How curious. I am loved by many and I have no desire to leap from the nearest bridge. Further, of the many black women of my acquaintance I know of none mourning her losses in the "genetic lottery," (thanks for that Jack @ 3:06 pm) or who is calculating her value relative to other races of women due to the 70% out-of-wedlock birthrate in the AA community (smooches to $ @ 2:48 pm).

Isn't there another sad group of people in this big wide country of ours that should be exposed? How about the performers in traveling freak shows? Or am I insulting the underpaid freaks by comparing their lives to the miserable existence of black women?

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kip

AC: This post is only discussing the OkCupid data, which doesn't show any female racism against Asian men.

Kay Barry, margaret meyers, Annie: The study doesn't just say that white men don't respond to black women; it says that *all* men don't respond to black women.

Anon

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

For the same reason that liberals support Affirmative Action for every minority except Asians.

BSK

The comments on here are going to make me vomit. Glad to know that "post-racial America" is alive and well.

Azra

African-American sounding names? You mean like Smith as in Will, Murphy as in Eddie, Fishburne as in Lawrence?
What crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AMarks

This is the second time I've read about this site here, and just went to check it out/sign up - OMG! The most fun time waster EVER!!!!

Steve

You're obviously trying to play up the anti-black discrimination and don't care about anti-Asian.

Have any more selective readings of the statistics you want to post 5 months after everyone in the know read about them?

PS

To Comment #4 - More children out of wedlock does not mean more sex out of wedlock. And sex out of wedlock does not mean you're giving it out for free. The sex may still be in a monogamous relationship after months or years of dating. We do not live in a society where majority culture waits until marriage for sex, so sex out of wedlock is not always considered "easy".

Also, your statistic has no bearing without looking at abortion rates based on race, fertility rates based on race and I'm sure other variables.

And since when, in our society, does it seem right to say a man is less likely to respond to a woman when chances of sex are higher. It could be true, but - like your single statistic - it is not convincing.

Mr.

Another issue is the "on the down low"....

The black men might not be responding b/c they are gay.

Homosexuality in the black community is very strange; vast majority of Gay Black men dont identify themsleves as Gay; and some stats say their percentages are larger than whites.

Oprah did a show on it; goggle it.

Gay black men go thru this entire sharade to mask their homosexuality to maintain their masculine 'street cred'...its basically collective denial.

So , alot of these non-response/replies may be stealth "beard hunting" by black gay males.

Sean

Tired - did a black woman write this blog post? Don't assume they all play victim because of something you read that victimizes them.

Tony

Population is heavily skewed - averages are weighted - if you look at the column of white guys, averages are all really close to white guys (even for the white girls row where every other group has high percentage).

Essentially only white people use OK cupid, and so this is isn't a very representative sample.

cloudsplitter

This is a helpful set of charts. For those who are asking why the story's headline did not include Asian men: Look at the colors. Asian men are not all that below men of any other race when it comes to response rate.

Now look at the first chart again, and look at the row for Black women. Obviously the variance is much more pronounced.

But whether you're a black woman, Asian man, or any race or gender, realize: Not everyone is going to write you back. So, find 10 people on the dating website you use, and write to those people. Maybe 1 or 2 of those won't write you back, due to race. Big deal. You have more time to spend on the quality candidates that do write back.

Jack

@ Desi 4:13

I was just giving my opinion as a male, and my knowledge of the opinions of other males. Maybe where you come from all the black women are smoking hot! The strongest evidence against that is right here on this blog. There aren't many academic studies with large samples of black women, but I did find a quote from a paper in a major social psychology journal which states that even sub-Saharan Africans prefer lighter skinned women.

"Both Black and White judges may rate women with lighter skin color more positively than those with darker skin color (Udry, Bauman, & Chase, 1971). Neal and Wilson (1989) offered a social power interpretation of preference for light skin color: "Undoubtedly, a light skinned Black woman's high desirability stems from her physical similarity to the White standard of beauty" (pp. 325-326). Yet, the cross-cultural literature raises doubts about the White social power interpretation of Black American men's preference for light-skin Black women. Van den Berge and Frost (1986) examined preferences for lighter versus darker skin color using 51 cultures from the Human Relations Area Files. Of those cultures, 92% preferred lighter rather than darker skin color, primarily for women. All 12 of the relevant sub-Saharan Black African cultures indicated preference for lighter skin color, suggesting that Black American physical attractiveness preferences may not be solely attributable to White influence. The authors suggested that lighter skin color may be attractive because of its association with infancy and youth."

Cunningham, M. R., Roberts, A. R., Barbee, A. P., Druen, P. B., & Wu, C. H. (1995). " Their Ideas of Beauty Are, on the Whole, the Same as Ours": Consistency and Variability in the Cross-Cultural Perception of Female Physical Attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 261-261.

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