In the early 2000s I recall Joel Grus telling me how reality television would become a pretty powerful exploratory tool for social science. I’m not quite sure of that now (there here’s a game-theoretic analysis of Survivor!). For example, consider The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. If you watched this series you might think that we’re still living in the same country where a episode of Star Trek was not shown in the South because of an interracial kiss. In some ways “appointment television” has become a lagging indicator.
Rather, it looks like firms whose bread & butter is “the social web” are where the gold in social science is. Consider the OkTrends blog, which is affiliated with and has access to OkCupid. These companies have sample sizes not in the thousands, but in the millions! The Financial Times has a fascinating piece on the “secret sauce” of Match.com, Inside Match.com: It’s all about the algorithm:
Several people have inquired as to my opinion on the OKCupid post The Mathematics Of Beauty. I’ve blogged data from this dating website in the past, in particular, the differential race consciousness of women vs. men. But that material is a different class than the current post. As I have noted before, there is a robust result in the social science research over the past decade which suggests that women express & reveal more race consciousness than men when it comes dating & mating. The previous OKCupid analysis wasn’t ground-breaking, it simply added some wrinkles into a series of patterns which were replicated in the literature. The current results are different insofar as I haven’t followed the academic literature which relates to this in detail. This matters because unlike most of my peers I’ve done very little online dating (basically 2 weeks in the summer of 2002), and so can’t bring a personal familiarity with the topic to the discussion. To be sure, plenty of my friends have discussed their issues with online dating with me, so I’m not ignorant of the phenomenon. My male friends routinely complain how difficult it is to get the attention of women who are bombarded by messages from all directions. A female friend who is in her mid-30s chronologically, but physically resembles a women in her 20s, has complained how men clearly have automatic age filters set for searches which are working against her.
Let’s start at the beginning. To the left you see a scatter plot of # of messages received by women per month as a function of their rated attractiveness. They controlled for background variables (e.g., race). On the one hand, the results aren’t surprising. You see that more attractive women receive more messages. But on the other hand, the residual (noise) around the trend line is enormous, especially in the top half the distribution. I am personally rather surprised at the enormous variance of message # at the higher ratings. But here’s an important point: this is the mean rating of attractiveness. It turns out there’s a substantial variance around the means of attractiveness for any given mean value. There are two ways to look at this. It seems there is a general consensus about a mean of a distribution as to someone’s attractiveness level. In other words, you don’t have a preponderance of uniform distributions, suggesting that attractiveness is extremely plastic. This is in line with what evolutionary psychologists have found: people from “small scale” societies can ascertain who is, or isn’t, attractive in a set of photos of Europeans. But there’s another part of the story: differences in opinions about physical attractiveness of the same person from the vantage point of outsiders.
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.