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UCI finds racial bias in Internet dating

White men are more willing than white women to date outside of their race, and both genders have distinctly different racial preferences, says a new UC Irvine study that examined the claims of thousands of people who used the popular Yahoo Personals online dating service.

“Among daters with stated racial preferences, white men are more likely to exclude blacks as possible dates, while white women are more likely to exclude Asians,” says the study by UCI sociologists Cynthia Feliciano and Belinda Robnett.

“We argue that exclusion related to racialized images of masculinity and femininity, and shapes dating and marriage outcomes, and thus minority groups’ possibilities for full social incorporation.”

Feliciano states the situation more simply in a news release, saying: “Stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity shape dating choices and continue to be perpetuated in the mass media. The hyper-feminine image of Asian American women contrasts greatly with that of Asian men, who are often portrayed as asexual.”

In an interview, Feliciano added that, while there’s more racial tolerance in America, “We are not in a ‘post-racial’ era. There are still strong boundaries between racial groups.”

The findings are based on an analysis of what 6,000 white women and men from Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Chicago said on Yahoo Personals when they were asked about their racial preferences. The sampling was broad, taking in people from the ages of 18 to 50. But, as the authors note, the study has drawbacks: “The selection of people who choose to date on the Internet are not a random sample of the population … The daters in our sample tend to be older, more educated, slightly more likely to be divorced, and more likely to be employed. Therefore, our results may not be generalizable to the population as a whole, or even the population of Internet users.”

Still, the authors consider Internet dating “a unique lens through which to understand the process of mate selection, which depends on both opportunity and preferences.”

“Our findings,” say Feliciano and Robnett, “confirm the expectation that ‘race matters’ in dating situations … Race is one of the main selection criteria for white Internet daters — which express racial preferences even more commonly than religious or educational preferences.”

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