New Research from UMass Amherst Sociologists Finds Online Daters Often Prefer Mixed-Race Individuals

Jennifer Lundquist

AMHERST, Mass. – A new study presented today by scholars at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Texas at Austin, reports that online daters often prefer mixed-race over mono-racial individuals, challenging the common belief that people with a white parent and a parent of a different racial-ethnic group, especially ones with a black parent, are always treated as “minorities.”

In their paper, “Dating Partners Don’t Always Prefer ‘Their Own Kind’: Some Multiracial Daters Get Bonus Points in the Dating Game,” which they presented to the Council on Contemporary Families and will appear later this summer in the American Sociological Review, sociologists Celeste Curington and Jennifer Lundquist of UMass Amherst and Ken-Hou Lin of UT Austin used 2003-10 data from one of the largest dating websites in the United States to examine nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual women and men. They found that the historic preference for whites in the dating market has been replaced in some cases with a preference for multiracial individuals.

Three groups received what the authors call a multiracial “dividend effect”:

• Asian-white women got the most positive response by white and Asian men alike. They were preferred over both mono-racial whites and Asians.

• Asian and Hispanic women preferred Asian-white and Hispanic-white men, respectively, responding more frequently to the multiracial men than to either their co-ethnic men or to whites.

• White women responded the least frequently to mono-racial Asian men and to blacks, but being Asian-white enhanced a man in white women’s preferences. They responded favorably to this group as frequently as they did to white men.

More detailed evidence in the report demonstrates further how racial barriers to dating are shifting, yet the authors found considerable evidence of a persistent color hierarchy – especially between blacks and whites. For example, white men and women remain less likely to respond to an individual who identifies as part black and part white than to a fellow white person. In related research, the investigators found that black women send few messages to men who are not also black but are more responsive when non-black men reach out to them, leading the authors to conclude that black women expect rejection if they initiate contacts with men of other ethnicities.

“Some cases,” the authors argue, “seem to be closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness.” They also suggest that the preference of white and Asian men for white-Asian women may reflect “the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic. Likewise, Asian and Hispanic women may have been influenced by the media’s increasing portrayal of multiracial men as attractive, chic, and trendy.” Alternatively, Asian and Hispanic women may believe that a man who is part white and part Asian or Hispanic may represent an especially attractive mix of both worlds when it comes to gender and cultural norms.

The authors propose that their findings suggest a growing blurring of romantic racial boundaries. Despite powerful historic, demographic and cultural patterns perpetuating such boundaries, the authors believe the changes they have detected may portend coming shifts in future interracial relationships.

A brief report on their study is currently available online here. The full study will be published in the American Sociological Review in August.