OkCupid’s Depressing New Data on Race and Dating

The data scientists at OkCupid crunch a lot of numbers about the nature of online dating. The site published their first look at the way race shapes dating decisions in 2009, revealing some fairly unequal trends. “Non-black men applied a penalty to black women,” cofounder Christian Rudder wrote. “All women preferred men of their own race but they otherwise penalized both Asian and black men.”

In five years, has anything about that racial bias changed? Have we moved closer to not judging people based on their skin color in dating situations? “If anything, racial bias has intensified a bit,” Rudder wrote in a new look at the data. 

What’s weird about the number is that in the questions that the site asks people on their profiles, the number of people who say yes to “Do you strongly prefer to date someone of your own race” and “Is interracial marriage a bad idea?” has declined. But the way that people choose each other has remained the same.

Rudder writes that OkCupid isn’t just a racist outlier. “All the dating data I’ve seen fits OkCupid’s pattern: black people and Asian men get short shrift,” he writes “These biases are pervasive in the data I’ve seen.”

It’s possible that online dating is a different game than dating in the world at large. But it probably reflects something that we all know well: Racism remains a factor in our society—no matter how much we might claim to be colorblind—due to a long entrenched structural social bias. Forget the everyday problems with online dating—there’s an underlying racially-charged lack of acceptance that’s much more disturbing and problematic than any annoying blind date scenario. And that has to change.

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