Sex & Relationships

Things We Didn't Expect from Online Dating: An Increase in Interracial Marriages

And what the study's model doesn't catch about embedded prejudices.

Photo Credit: Sirtravelalot /Shutterstock

Today, with over 50 million people on Tinder alone, the internet has become love’s kingdom of knowledge. Once stigmatized as a vacuous meeting ground, the internet can also be a pantheon of valuable information, reflecting subtle social shifts in the 21st century. The internet has also apparently contributed to the rise of interracial marriages. However, while dating site data can be analyzed to project a more integrated world, the vast universe of the internet also houses strict racial divides.

Josue Ortega and Philipp Hergovich are no strangers to the modern social study of gross data. The two economists have created a model to study what people’s dating tendencies express collectively, particularly on the subject of interracial marriage. Their research indicates that interracial marriages are on the rise in the U.S., ascending with new iterations of online-dating sites.

In their paper “The Strength of Absent Ties: Social Integration via Online Dating,” Ortega and Hergovich argue that while old networks for coupling have gently dissolved (gone are schoolmate bonds and unified neighborhood communities), online dating has led people to connect differently, and in doing so, they’ve become less likely to marry within racial categories.

By compiling random graphs and “matching theory,” the study authors observed an increase in interracial marriages alongside the introduction of new dating websites, at least according to census data: first in 1995 with Match.com, and then slowly increasing, with a predictive jump in 2014, when Tinder became a relevant dating app. The study also found that marriages and relationships that started online tended to be stronger.

However, while Ortega and Hergovich claim that their “model predicts nearly complete racial integration upon the emergence of online dating,” it is clear that embedded prejudices in individuals are finding ways to express themselves on dating sites. Take the whites-only dating site Where White People Meet (as if the majority race needs a separatist dating pool), or Plenty of Fish and Tinder, which are dating grounds for white nationalists, while the web page WASP Love was expressly created for the so-called alt-right. 

OkCupid, Tinder’s parent company, has written about interracial love on its site, though it brings a different lens to the data it has amassed.  In 2014, the site reflected on the user information it collected over the last five years, finding 82% of non-black men on OkCupid showed a bias against black women; that a majority of women wanted to date within their own race; and that if anything, racial biases had intensified over five years. The analysis departs from Ortega and Hergovich’s original question of marriage, and rather than buoy the duo’s research, OkCupid’s data potentially shows embedded racist attitudes when it comes to dating.

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one-third of marriages start online. According to Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, the internet is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet, only outcompeted by relationships connected through mutual friends. Meanwhile, the internet out-trends all other courtship methods when it comes to same-sex couples. The popularity of online dating also makes it a sourcebook for people’s behavioral tendencies in their quest for love.  

The discussion of interracial relationships and online dating is not new to dating site creators. E-Harmony.com’s blog Love & Harmony has a whole page devoted to interracial relationships, and goes so far as to advertise “Interracial dating starts with eHarmony.” 

Clearly, dating sites have been weighing in on their role in interracial dating, whether that action is symbolic, marketing or another exhibit of white supremacy. While Hergovich and Ortega’s work does hint at a rise in racially integrated marriages in the future, the internet is vast, and there is too much gray area to pretend we are in some kind of post-racial world, simply because a model has predicted it.

Sophie Linden is an editorial assistant at AlterNet's office in Berkeley, CA. 

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