How Your Race Affects The Messages You Get

October 5th, 2009 by Christian Rudder

Welcome back, dorks. We’ve processed the messaging habits of over a million people and are about to basically prove that, despite what you might’ve heard from the Obama campaign and organic cereal commercials, racism is alive and well. It would be awesome if other big websites would go out on a limb and release their own race data, too. I can’t imagine they will: multi-million dollar enterprises rarely like to admit that the people generating those millions act like turds. But being poor gives us a certain freedom. To alienate all our users. So there.

When I first started looking at first-contact attempts and who was writing who back, it was immediately obvious that the sender’s race was a huge factor. Here are just a handful of the numbers that illustrate that:

The takeaway here is that although race shouldn’t matter in messaging, it does. A lot.

First of all, how do we know that race shouldn’t matter? Are we just making some after-school-special assumption that “true love is colorblind?” more compatibility usually
means more replies
No, we’re not: we know race shouldn’t matter to replies because the races all match each other more or less evenly, and reply rate correlates to matching. That is, more compatibility generally means more replies.

On OkCupid you create your own unique matching system, and that means your better matches are people you actually want talk to. Below is a graph showing match percentages vs. reply rates for a random sample of 500,000 people.As you can see, in general, the better you match someone, the more likely you are to reply to a first message from them.

We can see this principle in action when we look at our trusty control, the Zodiac. Here are the match and reply rates side-by-side, with similar rates colored yellow. There’s no real need to inspect the numbers; just observe the similar colors.

  • Throughout this post, yellowish colors are short-hand for “neutral” and red and green indicate “strong preference.”

People of the various Zodiac signs match each other all at roughly the average rate, and, as we would expect, they reply to messages similarly. In general, the correlation between match percentage and reply rate means that whenever we compare the match/reply charts for a given breakdown of the population, they should look about the same. However, this, like so many other fine assumptions, totally breaks down when race gets involved:

Again, don’t bother squinting, just check out the colors. We’ll soon look very closely at these tables.

So here’s last week’s compatibility by race table (I explained how we can confidently measure “compatibility” in that post). This is a blow-up of the leftmost table above:

As you can see, the races all match each other roughly evenly: good news. It means all other things being equal, two people, of whatever race, should have the same chance to have a successful relationshp. But now let’s look at the table of how individuals actually reply to each other’s messages. First we’ll examine messages sent by men to women (I know our gay readers are interested in same-sex versions of these tables, there’s a link to them here and at the end of this post):

The numbers on the perimeter of the table are the weighted average rates for each column/row. Here’s what we can know:

  • Black women write back the most. Whether it’s due to talkativeness, loneliness, or a sense of plain decency, black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.
  • White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women only respond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible. Asian women write back non-white males at 21.9%, Hispanic women at 22.9%, and white women at 23.0%. It’s here where things get interesting, for white women in particular. If you look at the match-by-race table before this one, the “should-look-like” one, you see that white women have an above-average compatibility with almost every group. Yet they only reply well to guys who look like them. There’s more data on this towards the end of the post.

Let’s see what happens when it’s the women writing the messages to men.

  • Men don’t write black women back. Or rather, they write them back far less often than they should. Black women reply the most, yet get by far the fewest replies. Essentially every race—including other blacks—singles them out for the cold shoulder.
  • White guys respond less overall. The average reply rate of non-white males is 48.1%, while white guys’ is only 40.5%. Basically, they write back about 20% less often. It’s ironic that white guys are worst responders, because as we saw above they in turn get the most replies. That has apparently made them very self-absorbed.

Finally, here are a couple tables that shed further light on our discussion. These are site-wide answers to a couple user-written match questions. They barely need any explanation: one comments on the other, really. Together they shed more light on the theory/practice schizophrenia of people’s racial attitudes.



It’s surely not just OkCupid users that are like this. In fact, it’s any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would likely exhibit messaging biases similar to what I’ve written up. Any dating site probably
has these biases
According to our internal metrics, at least, OkCupid’s users are better-educated, younger, and far more progressive than the norm, so I can imagine that many sites would actually have worse race stats. But like I said at the beginning, we’ll probably never know. See you next week.


(Addendum to original post)

Same-Sex Data for Race vs. Reply Rates

As promised, here are the same-sex versions of last week’s charts and tables. In general, they show that straights and gays share many of the same inclinations, but the prejudices of the latter are perhaps a bit less pronounced. I should say at the top that some of the sample sizes for the various race/gender slices presented here are rather small (for instance, OkCupid doesn’t have many lesbians of Indian descent), and that accounts, I think, for some of the scatter-shot nature of the color tables. Race preferences are not nearly as stark here as they are with the heterosexual data.

See for yourself:

Still, there are a few conclusions we can draw:

  • Blacks get fewer responses. We saw this with the straight data, too, and here it’s true of both gay and lesbian senders. Black gay men get over 20% fewer responses than non-blacks, which is about how straight black men fared. Black women, on the other hand, do relatively much better with gays than straights. While they’re still the least replied-to group, the discrepancy is much smaller in the lesbian community.
  • Whites respond by far the least to anyone.. Both white lesbians and white gay men write the fewest replies. In fact, across the two charts, whites respond about 15% less often than non-whites, and white gay men show a marked preference for other whites. On the other hand, gay white women don’t have the segregationist tendencies of their straight counterparts; they just dis everyone. Whereas last week we saw that straight white women strongly preferred other whites to the exclusion of other groups, lesbian whites respond to all 9 racial groups roughly evenly, and, in general, the lesbian community seems relatively colorblind. Only Indian lesbians receive a response rate far off the average, and as I said above, the sample size there is limited and the results might be skewed by chance.
  • Asian lesbians are in demand, and they’re picky about other races. Gay Asian females are replied to the most, and, among the well-represented groups, they have the most defined racial preferences: they respond very well to other Asians, Whites, Native Americans, and Middle Easterners, but very poorly to the other groups. Latin women also express a clear preference, for Whites and Asians.
  • Men prefer Middle Easterners. Gay men and straight men both respond best to Middle Easterners, and the preference is quite dramatic. I’d be interested to hear any theories why this is so.

As we did last week, we can see that all groups think, theoretically, that interracial relationships are acceptable, yet again whites are the least willing to have such a relationship themselves. This time it’s the men, not the women, who prefer most to keep to their own: it’s interesting that both in reply patterns and in their answers to these two match questions, the behavior of white straight women and white gay men are so closely parallel.

To our friends in the gay and lesbian communities: thanks for being patient and waiting for this data. We will do gay-centric articles in the future, I promise. Lately, since we’ve been dealing with complex and data-intensive subjects like race and reply rates, we’ve had to restrict ourselves to straight data in the primary post. We felt that adding a discussion of gay and lesbian trends alongside straight ones would triple the length of an already long and dense post and surely more than triple reader confusion. We will keep looking for ways to present the information you rightly expect; for now, it will be in addenda such as this one.

1,557 Responses to “How Your Race Affects The Messages You Get”

  1. Asian Guy Again says:

    So what if Whites are most preferred? This isn’t some popularity contest. Anyone who blames race or color for not being able to find love is pathetic.

  2. Greg says:

    What about male-male and female-female stats?

  3. Asian Guy to Asian Guy says:

    “So what if Whites are most preferred? This isn’t some popularity contest.”
    Actually, this is science

    ” Anyone who blames race or color for not being able to find love is pathetic.”
    True, but to ignore the fact that race plays a big role in initial attraction is ignorant.

  4. The Voice of Reason says:

    smh….

    I could write a fucking library about why this is and why it happened and why its fucked up, but what we can take away from this is. The white media has ruined all the other races. Everyone who isn’t white hates themselves and everyone has been taught to worship white. This is very, very, VERY sad and disheartening. Major props to the Black women out there because y’all can’t seem to catch a break…

  5. satan says:

    lol at all the racist. get over it white women don’t have to date/fuck you.
    if that makes them racist, so what! there is nothing you can do about it.
    that is the way of the world.

  6. QuestionsQuestionsQuestions says:

    Just looking at the last chart, the population numbers would be a much more interesting comparison than percentages. Whites, both male and female, vastly outnumber the other races that responded to that question. I would posit that the vast differences in populations could skew the responses in some way, be it positively or negatively. Perhaps they should put forth charts with the true numbers next to the percentages? I think there are some holes/further ideas that need to be explored before definitive answers and judgements can be made.

  7. Caro says:

    As a Canadian born Asian woman….I have no attraction to other Asian men and honestly, prefer white males. Why? I think it’s cultural difference – being Canadian born, English is my first language and I’ve grown up very liberal. All the Asian men I’ve met are not liberal. They’re conservative and they’re looking for a house wife to pump out children. Not me. No way. I find it’s easier for me to be in a relationship with a white male because there’s less pressure of being forced to get married, of meeting family, etc, which I don’t want! In the past, I actually was attracted to Asian men more than white men in the past but after getting to know them and realizing their interests don’t lie with mine…*shrugs* And I find that Asian men are just too effeminate, more effeminate than I am sometimes! I’m a very tough chick and I want a man who can handle my crass humour and open-mindedness. Just my two cents…