Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Interracial Dating: the Ivy League has no Answers

On my now near-daily trawls on Model Minority, I came across a link to a study called "Racial Preferences in Dating," put out by a trio of researchers at Columbia, Stanford and UChicago (Google the title to download it - it's short).

The study couldn't have a better pedigree, although I can't figure out why it ran in The Review of Economic Studies.

I think the model minority "problem" is a bit of a ghost (and somewhat offensive to the rest of America's minorities), but I also admit that like many racial stereotypes, the effects might be worse for men than women, particularly when it comes to dating. I've heard plenty of girls say they're just "not into" Asian guys, which does smack of prejudice. If they don't even look at Asian guys, how can they know they're not attracted?

Of course, the rise of geek-chic might make it a moot point.

The authors of the study found that their sample (several hundred speed daters recruited at Ivy League universities) by and large did prefer people of their own race, but not by much. Women cared more than men did (hence stereotypes being more of a problem for men). Attractive people cared less.

That second and third findings ring true, but I'm not sure this study proves anything about the real world at all, except that people's racial preferences can't be measured by researchers. The trio starts with the question, why are only 7% of America's marriages interracial? (Back when they did the study the number was 4, now it's more like 7.)

They find no real evidence, which they try to explain away by saying that their respondents were people who were willing to look outside the traditional bounds for a relationship (speed daters), highly educated, and all that jazz.

But maybe the people they saw were also more jaded. Clearly, people who are speed dating are busy and very interested in a relationship. Matching more people means it's more likely you'll get responses. Just because Person A matches Person B doesn't mean that A thinks B is a stellar prospect, or that they' really want to see B again.

The scientists also said that the subjects might be looking for a fling, and that in serious relationships would want someone of their own race. They discounted this by saying that older folks - with more serious intentions - had less of a race bias. But I know a ton of young people who are hot for the aisle, and they are plenty race-biased. (In other words, age was a really poor choice of proxy by the researchers.)

To a degree I read the study because I really want to know the answer to this question. Minorities in America are, either by necessity or perversity, all sorta involved in this debate. After all, as long as white people are the majority, most minority kids will have crushed on a white kid at some point.

But whether the ensuing feeling of being invisible comes entirely from race is debatable. I don't know if that's the answer, or whether it's a condition of adolescence that in some people becomes the habit of adulthood.

I also know that in my somewhat free-wheeling middle and high schools, everything went, dating-wise. Then I went to an Ivy League school and saw plenty of racial bias in dating, life and a lot of other things. It was strange, to say the least (Disclosure: my school was in the Midwest).

And of course, minorities can complain about how white people don't want to date us, but how much of that isn't on our side? The whole thing about these biases that make them so difficult to measure is that you can go your whole life without really knowing you harbor them.

No comments: