Using these user-generated profiles, researchers compared their stated racial preferences with the races of the people they ended up contacting. The results indicate a strong preference on the part of whites for dating other whites. Here’s the summary from TIME:
Taken as a group, whites, women and older people were choosiest about sticking with others of their color. More than four of five whites contacted other whites, while just 3% reached out to blacks. The ratios stayed the same for young and older people, too — 80% chose not to contact others from outside their race. And only 5% of white subscribers responded to inquiries from someone from another race.
What about people who said they were indifferent? For whites who claimed to be, about 80% still contacted whites. Blacks who said they were color-blind when it comes to Cupid were more likely to contact a white than to contact a black.
So, what’s the deal? Are online daters racist? Are they hypocrites? Another news report on the study quotes Mendelsohn again to address this question. He theorizes that the pattern of black people online being more willing to date whites “simply reflects how upward mobility” and an effort to assimilate. On the other hand, dating outside of whiteness may present “more of a hassle for a white person in America” and that dating choice may be viewed “as a social downgrade.” According to Mendelsohn, for whites the calculation is simple:
“You will have trouble with family, with friends, and every time you go to a restaurant people will be looking at you. So you think, Why bother?”
This study suggests a deep-seated white racial frame, that both privileges whiteness and marks black people as “less desirable” dating partners. This online pattern also reflects offline trends. The U.S. Census data from 2000 shows that only one percent of American marriages take place between a black and white person.
Clearly, there’s lots of room for future research in this area since the one study I was able to find about this isn’t even published yet. I’d expect that there will be rich research opportunities to explore online dating sites that are specifically targeting people seeking interracial relationships (like the ad pictured above). This is something that enraged the avowed white supremacists I studied in Cyber Racism, but there’s obviously more to be said about these sites.
I’d also be curious about how these patterns of race overlap and intersect with sexuality. The research I’ve seen so far has looked almost exclusively at patterns among heterosexuals at online dating sites. While straight people are clearly the heaviest users of such sites, given recent lawsuits against eHarmony, there is a desire on the part of some gays to participate in the sites.
And, contrary to the dating patterns of heterosexuals, LGBT folks are much more likely to be in interracial relationships (updated: e.g., see this discussion – noted by Brandon in comments – and this one), so online dating for this group may reflect these offline patterns as well.
Once more, the research indicates that the Internet is changing our social world, in this instance how people meet potential dating partners. Woven into these new technologies, however, are old patterns of race and racism.