Is Intercultural competence needed in online dating?

Intercultural competence is the ability of successful communication with people of other cultures.

I love what the guys at OK Cupid do, they have a very interesting social dating site. But what makes it unique is the tests/quizes and the way it monitors every aspect of what you do across the site. Don't get me wrong I know other sites do this but OK Cupid is very playful about how it does it. Anyway for a while now, OK Cupid has been presenting a fascinating looks the habits, trends and behaviours of its participations via its blog called OkTrends.

I can point you to quite a few interesting trends (How Races and Religions Match in Online Dating) (Online Dating Advice: Exactly What To Say In A First Message) but the latest trend is a bombshell and has massive implications outside of the social grazing field of OKCupid.

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?” 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.

Getting down to the meat of the issue, here's the graph of replies when there is a male sender. (by the way the gay table is coming next week)

Reply rate by race for a male sender

So going by the above chart, OK Cupid has come up with these conclusions.

  • Black women are sweethearts. Or just talkative. But either way, they are by far the most likely to reply to your first message. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and overall black women reply about a quarter more often.
  • 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.

And now if the sender is female…

Reply rate by race for a female sender

And that conclusion from Ok Cupid

  • 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 are shitty, but fairly even-handed about it. 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 get the most replies. That has apparently made them very self-absorbed. It’s interesting that white males do manage to reply to Middle Eastern women. Is there some kind of emergent fetish there? As Middle Easterners are becoming America’s next racial bogeyman, maybe there’s some kind of forbidden fruit thing going on. (Perhaps a reader more up-to-date on his or her Post-Colonial Theory can step in here? Just kidding. Don’t.)

Well what can you say to all that? There's already been 300+ comments to the blog post. Surely we're somewhat beyond this? Maybe my faith in human evolution is somewhat misplaced?

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.