Female race consciousness as prudence

By Razib Khan | October 16, 2010 4:52 pm

Big Think has a post, Do Women Value Ethnicity Over Income in a Mate?:

The results are striking. An African-American man would have to earn $154,000 more than a white man in order for a white woman to prefer him. A Hispanic man would need to earn $77,000 more than a white man, and Asian man would need, remarkably, an additional $247,000 in additional annual income.

So do women value ethnicity over income in a mate? They certainly seem too. If income was the more important factor in mate choice these numbers would be small; it would take very little additional income to entice a woman to date a man of a different race. The fact that the numbers are so large suggests that a man’s race is significantly more important that his income.

And men? Well the problem is that men don’t seem to care about income at all. So even though their behaviour suggests they care less about their partner’s race than women do, the income needed to encourage them to make the trade-off between races is incalculably large. To really estimate how much men care about race you would have to find a different measure, like perhaps physical beauty.

First, there has been research controlling for physical beauty. So the white male disinclination toward black females can be accounted for mostly by the fact that they aren’t as physically attracted to them. When you limit the sample of black women to those which they are physically attracted to the discrepancy mostly disappears. In contrast, when you similarly constrain the samples of black men which white women judge as attractive the discrepancy in dating preference remains (the same when you do so for Asian men).

All this is not new. I blogged this two years ago, and have gotten bored with the topic (there a regular series of papers which confirm the finding in different circumstances). The sex difference in race preference in the dating literature seems relatively robust. Women care about the race of their partners far more than men, all things equal (in fact, much of the literature suggests men are not concerned about race very much when you control for other background variables). If a site brands itself as “Big Think”, it would be nice to add some value.

I’ll offer a hypothesis in keeping with Ann Althouse’s rule-of-thumb in regards to discussing sex differences in polite company: make sure to make it seem as if women are superior in some fashion. Perhaps women simply have a lower time preference? That is, they’re thinking of long-term consequences. Interracial divorce rates are higher, so women may be making implicit calculations as to the probable success of a relationship as opposed to the short-term benefits of a pairing which men fixate upon. Additionally they may be more liable to “think of the children.” Though I’m generally skeptical of the social science research in this area which indicate that mixed-race children experience stress because of their background, there are plenty of high profile media accounts of people of mixed-race and their “struggles” with their identity. This may shape perceptions of the quality of life of the children. In other words, women aren’t being shallow at all, race is an excellent proxy for all sorts of social-cultural variates which might effect the outcomes of a relationship success, and also the fullness of life which their offspring may experience. Women are then in this model being prudent by using a coarse variate, race, as a proxy for the multi-textured reality of how race is lived in America, and how it matters deeply in the lives of human beings.

To test this sort of model we need data from other societies. There are confounds in this analysis in the USA because Asians, for example, are a small minority who as a matter of necessity can’t really limit their dating pool as much as whites. Additionally, it would be useful to take a fine-grained look at Hispanic dating patterns. About ~50% of Hispanic/Latino Americans identify as white, ~40% as “other”, while ~10% a mix with a substantial number of blacks. The race preference may be mostly a function of perception of cultural values, in which case you’d see that Hispanics don’t exhibit any sex bias in race at all. Then it would not be a matter of women being more racist, but being far less cosmopolitan! Oops, I mean that the low time preference is not operating through a racial proxy but a cultural proxy which is correlated with race. In other words, women are culturally sensitive, while men are culturally insensitive.


Comments (11)

  1. cesar

    I’m not disputing the primary argument made–women tend to discriminate more based on race when it comes to selecting a partner. However, I question some of the intergroup (racial wise) differences when it comes to racial prejudice. As many have argued, most racial minorities with a predilection for their own racial group wouldn’t go to a interracial site, but instead would select black singles, rate desi, etc. Thus it is difficult to detect the degree of discrimination based on race. One could assume that whites may want to hold on to supposed “privilege” in our society and so would be more discriminatory (that’s the dominant, popular narrative). Yet, relying on these dating sites for data (which do not have broad representations of racial minorities) to arrive at these conclusions can be tricky. After all, one could assume that most whites (even those with a preference for their own racial group) would not elect to go to a white singles dating site (given our political correct environment).

  2. MNA

    The data used in the post is clearly not reflective of the main population. For example, out of the 22k online dating sample, only 5% was asian. Yet San Diego is over 10% Asian. There’s some clear self selection in the sample of online daters.

    Also, the data is flawed if it doesn’t take into account specific groups. An indian person will not consider a Japanese person to be within the bounds their ‘own racial group’ even though they’re both categorized as Asian. I suspect this dynamic is also much more prevalent in the Asian communities than elsewhere. For example, a Korean person might consider a Vietnamese person to be not within their racial group, although in census terms it might be categorized as such. This dynamic is also probably at play in the Latino community, although to a lesser extent due to the fact that most latinos tend to share a common language. White and blacks on the other hand, probably aren’t affected by this dynamic at all.

    What’s the end effect? the end effect is that the ‘Racial Preference’ of whites and blacks may be correct, while the racial preference of Hispanics and especially Asians are understated.

    Again, not possible to make a judgement until data is broken down into specific categories.

  3. The data used in the post is clearly not reflective of the main population. For example, out of the 22k online dating sample, only 5% was asian. Yet San Diego is over 10% Asian. There’s some clear self selection in the sample of online daters.

    well, it’s true that it isn’t representative. but you’re a moron. asian americans are ~5% of the population, not 10.

  4. Charlotte

    He never claimed that Asian Americans are 10% of the total population. Read his post again, more carefully.

    He only said that Asian Americans are 10% of the population of San Diego. Actually, in checking that number, Wikipedia suggests that it’s closer to 15%.

    Irrelevant, perhaps, but not moronic.

  5. right. i think introducing irrelevant data is moronic. e.g., on reddit people have been refuting the findings by asserting that they’re a white women who prefers black men. that’s moronic on a more clear ground, but this is only a more sophisticated type of idiocy.

  6. Jake

    I completely understand that a good, randomized sample can allow us to make decent generalizations.

    However the simple fact is that the people who sign up for dating sites are self selecting, as in they are looking for people with specific traits.

    So to assume that these people are representative of our population is ridiculous. All this tells us is the general preference of Americans who sign up for dating sites.

  7. I’m positive that a man’s financial position has a lot to do with interracial dating. I’ve watched women accept more if a man is “financially stable” and known as a provider. I’m not sure if that is genetics. It’s possible that women deep down are wanting someone who provides and protects. But when it comes to men, we keep things basic. We know an attractive woman when we see one. And will pursue her over the unattractive woman on the same race.

    Either way, I’m sure women will make an exception to interracial dating if the man was wealthy.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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