How Your Race Affects The Messages You Get in Online Dating

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 the other major online dating players 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 paying them 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:

Message Reply Chart Based On Race

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. 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.

Match / Reply Correlation Graph

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.”

Match / Reply Ratio by Zodiac

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:

Match / Reply Ratio by Race

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:

Online Dating Match by Race Chart

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):

Online Dating Reply by Race Chart (Male Sender)

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.

Online Dating Reply by Race Chart (Female Sender)
  • 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.)

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.

Is Interracial Marriage A Bad Idea? Chart + Data
Would You Strongly Prefer to Date Someone of Your Own Skin Color / Racial Background?

It’s probably not just OkCupid users that are like this. I don’t want anyone walking away from all this thinking that OkCupid users exceptionally horrible people. It’s likely that any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would exhibit messaging biases similar to what I’ve written up. 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.

 Filed under: Misc, Race

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