Online dating can broaden our horizons

At last – a study that shows that we are more likely to date people from different ethnic groups when we’re online dating, compared with other more traditional dating methods!

Pre-internet, partners were similar to us

In the past, we were likely to pick a partner similar to us in terms of education, religion, and ethnic group, because we’d meet people through others we already knew. But since the internet arrived, we’ve had more opportunities to break out and meet people different from us.

Previous studies have shown that online daters have a strong preference for their own ethnic group (Mendelsohn et al, 2014 and Hitsch et al, 2010 in the US; Potarca and Mills, 2015 in Europe). I’ll be writing in more detail about these studies at a later date.

Online is better than offline for mixing!

But this latest study by Potarca gives us hope that online dating might have an advantage. It’s the first study to compare our partner preferences using a number of ways of meeting offline (friends, family, workplace, etc) with online.

Potarca (2017) uses survey data from people in relationships from the US and Germany (nearly 3000 and about 7800 participants respectively).

The study found that couples who’d met online were less likely to “stick with their own” when it came to education, religion and ethnicity, compared with those meeting in real life. This was true for both the US and German sample.

Online dating can improve intergroup relations

Working at the University of Oxford in the Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict, I’m delighted to find some evidence that online dating is a way for us to get to know people from other ethnic groups. It’s well known that “birds of a feather stick together” – we instinctively stay within our tribe. But a large body of research on intergroup contact over 60 years shows clearly that mixing with people different from us reduces our prejudices, makes us trust them more and feel less threatened by them, and increases our empathy towards them. All very important in today’s world!

It’s fantastic to think that online dating could make a positive contribution to society. It might even be argued that it’s my civic duty to date.

Challenge: broaden your horizons through dating in 2017

I would like to challenge you to date people from new ethnic groups. Even if you think you’re pretty open minded, ask yourself: How many of my dates or partners have been from a different ethnic background from mine? Are there particular groups I’d like to get to know better?


Dating is a great opportunity step outside our comfort zone. It would be wonderful if, when we finally carry out a study on UK dating preferences, we found UK daters were even more open than those from elsewhere!

Don’t be afraid of cultural differences

There are some interesting cultural differences when it comes to dating that you’ll discover (I’ll save them for another blog post) – but don’t let that put you off. Communicate with each other and enjoy finding out about them. I’m pretty sure you’ll learn a lot, have fun and make new friends, if nothing else!

Get in touch and tell me about your interethnic dating experiences!

Hitsch G. J., Hortaçsu A., Ariely D. (2010). What makes you click? Mate preferences in online dating. Quantitative Marketing and Economics, 8, 393–427.

Mendelsohn, G. A., Shaw Taylor, L., Fiore, A. T., & Cheshire, C. (2014). Black/White dating online: Interracial courtship in the 21st century. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3, 2.

Potarca, G. (2017). Does the internet affect assortative mating? Evidence from the US and Germany. Social Science Research, 61, 278-297.

Potarca, G., & Mills, M. (2015). Racial preferences in online dating across European countries. European Sociological Review, 31, 326-341.