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.

For a further discussion of race and replies, the same-sex equivalents of this post’s data are here.

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…