Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Racial Preferences in Internet Dating: A Comparison of Four Birth Cohorts

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Racial Preferences in Internet Dating: A Comparison of Four Birth Cohorts

Article excerpt

Few would dispute that dating preferences are consistently shaped by various social institutions and psychological factors (Dalmage 2006; Gullickson 2006; Yancey 2002). This is especially true for interracial relationships. In a society that has created and maintained a racial hierarchy for centuries, crossing the color-line when selecting a mate has met with varying levels of approbation (Barnett 1963; Childs 2002; Zabel 1964). For instance, between 1876 and 1964, the era generally known as "Jim Crow," individuals were actively discouraged from mixing interracially. During this period, roughly thirty-eight states had anti-miscegenation laws in place to aggressively punish racial/ethnic transgressors. Even in the late 1960s, the twilight of Jim Crow, public support for prohibiting race mixing ran high, as over 72% of Southern whites and 42% of northern whites supported a ban on interracial relationships (Kennedy 1997). Combined with strong feelings of prejudice, these discriminatory laws were effective at enforcing racial homophily.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally dismantled Jim Crow. Nevertheless, public attitudes about racial mixing have been somewhat more resistant to change (Dalmage 2006). One measure of the improvement of race relations in the United States is interracial marriage, and researchers continue to take the pulse of American race relations by investigating interracial marriage patterns (Jacobs and Labov 2002; Johnson and Jacobson 2005; Miller, Olson, and Fazio 2004; Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan 1995). Many social scientists argue that mixed marriage rates act as a barometer of racial tolerance and acceptance (see e.g., Aldridge 1978; Blau 1994; Gordon 1964), and, as a result, most studies of intimate interracial relations have focused on marriage rather than dating. Although the amount of research on interracial dating is starting to increase, a lacuna continues to exist in the literature concerning the topic. Because there is no necessary correspondence between interracial dating and interracial marriage, what we know about intermarriage may not generalize to interracial daters (Fujino 1997; Yancey 2002).

Over the past few years, however, researchers have begun to pay more attention to interracial dating. For instance, in a recent study, Yancey (2002) found that 35.7% of all whites in the United States, 56.5% of African Americans, 55.4% of Hispanics, and 57.1% of all Asians have dated someone of a different race. Although earlier figures on the numbers of couples dating interracially are hard to come by, the increase in interracial marriages and anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of couples dating across racial and ethnic lines is, in fact, increasing as well. Some attribute the increasing number of mixed-race partners to demographic and cultural shifts that are currently occurring in our society (Chideya 2006). Racial diversity in the United States is at an all-time high (Prewitt 2001), creating greater opportunity for contact between racially-diverse populations. Moreover, previously considered to be a taboo topic, intimate relationships between members of different racial and ethnic groups are increasingly featured in the popular media (Frutkin 2002). Although it would appear that increased interracial exposure has made it more acceptable to enter into race-mixed unions, there remain gaps in the research literature on such dating practice. One such gap involves the question of the intergenerational willingness to date someone of another race or ethnicity. Specifically, would a person raised in the middle of the 20th century, considered to be the twilight of the Jim Crow era, be as interested in dating a person of a different race or ethnicity as would someone coming of age in later, more racially diverse, and, at least in a legal sense, more racially-tolerant time periods?

We address this question using data from a nationwide sample of Internet daters. In this study, we examine the interracial dating preferences of four distinct birth cohorts, the Silent Generation (individuals born in 1942 or before), the Baby Boomers (those born between 1943 and 1960), Generation X (those born between 1961 and 1981), and the Millennium Generation (those born after1981). …

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