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Why some multiracial people have an advantage in online dating

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In the world of online dating, it turns out that certain groups of multiracial people are preferred over their white counterparts.

That's the conclusion of a new study that challenges the neat racial hierarchy suggested by previous research, which indicated that white men and women were the most desired partners, black Americans the least, and Latino and Asian people somewhere in between.

The findings — summarized in a briefing paper prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families by University of Massachusetts Amherst and University of Texas Austin researchers — are being publicized against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding population of multiracial Americans.

But a close look at the boost enjoyed by some (though not all) groups of multiracial daters suggests that this phenomenon might be fueled less by a widespread embrace of demographic change or diversity, and more by old racial stereotypes that are simply showing up in new ways.

The findings

The researchers analyzed a major dating website's data from 2003 to 2010, scrutinizing 6.7 million messages between heterosexual men and women.

They compared the responses received by three groups of multiracial people (Asian-white, black-white, and Hispanic-white) with the responses received by their counterparts who identified with only one race.

"The most surprising finding from our study is that some white-minority multiracial daters are, in fact, preferred over white daters," the study authors wrote. They dubbed this the multiracial "dividend effect."

But even among the groups the researchers studied, who were all "white-minority" (versus, for example, black and Hispanic Americans), it would be an oversimplification to say all multiracial people were preferred over white people. The "dividend effect" played out differently among different pairings of daters.

  • Asian-white women were viewed more favorably than any other group of women by white and Asian men, beating out both women who identified only as white and women who identified only as Asian.
  • Asian-white and Hispanic-white men were preferred by Asian and Hispanic women over both men who shared their ethnicity and white men.
  • White women preferred black-white men to Asian and Hispanic men.

The explanation: "A continuing preference for whiteness"?

What's behind the results? Likely a lot of different things. "There are several possible explanations for the multiraciality dividends we found, and they may represent different dynamics in each case," the researchers wrote.

Appearance didn't appear to be one of the factors — at least not directly. Study co-author Ken-Hou Lin, an assistant professor of sociology at UT Austin, told the Washington Post that biracial profiles without any photos performed about as well as those profiles with photos.

And while the top-line result — that sometimes multiracial people are preferred over white people — would seem to suggest an embrace of diversity, they noted that in some cases the preferences for multiracial daters actually seem to be "closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness. "

For example, on the preferences of both white and Asian men for white-Asian women, the authors wrote, "We may be seeing the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic." Similarly, they speculated that the preference of Asian-American women for multiracial men could be explained by stereotypes about Asian men with a more recent immigration history to the United States as more patriarchal and gender conservative than white American men.

The research will also appear in the American Sociological Review in August.

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