International online dating sites

When it comes to dating sites, race matters

Look no further than Where White People Meet, a new dating website marketed toward (you guessed it) white people.

"I am sure some of you are wondering about the concept and need for a dating website titled Where White People Meet.Com, " founder Sam Russell says on the website. "Our answer to that would be why not? There are various dating websites that promote and cater to just about every origin, race, religion and lifestyle out there. So again, why not Where White People Meet.Com?"

Reactions varied from amused to bewildered. Doesn't majority-white America offer opportunities for white people to meet each time they leave home?

Amid debate over its offensiveness, the billboard came down on Tuesday, the company said on Twitter.

"It was NOT our decision to pull the billboard. 'Compass Billboards' in Utah pulled it due to complaints. What a shame. Will have another soon, " the company said.

Data indeed suggest that users of online dating sites tend to favor people of their own race - and not just white people. Hence the popularity of dating sites targeting niche interests and lifestyles - farmers, pet-lovers, Democrats, Christians, baby boomers, divorcees and millionaires - as well as various races and ethnicities.

The trend continues in marriage. About 10% of heterosexual married couples in 2010 had partners of a different race or ethnicity, more than ever before, according to U.S. Census data. The percentages were higher for unmarried heterosexual couples, at 18%, and unmarried same-sex partners, at 21%.

It may not sound like much, but those numbers are a good sign "considering we're talking about couples that face more marginalization than the rest of the population, " said H. Colleen Sinclair, an associate professor of psychology at Mississippi State University whose research focuses on interpersonal relationships and social influence.

What's more, the numbers are changing rapidly. Households with interracial or interethnic heterosexual married couples grew by 28% in just 10 years, from 7% in 2000 to 10% in 2010.

All of which makes Where White People Meet puzzling to psychologists, social scientists and relationship experts. As long as whites are the majority race in America, the odds favor them in just about any dating scenario.

"It's redundant. The reason why we don't need Where White People Meet is the same reason we need (other race-based) dating websites, " said Christelyn Karazin, founder of Beyond Black & White, a blog about interracial relationships aimed at black women.

It could be a byproduct of racial tensions in the United States, Sinclair said, with "competitive victimhood" playing out among parts of the white population as minorities gain ground in arenas such as politics and corporate America.

"It means they probably don't have a real understanding of the racial dynamics of our country, " she said.

Social segregation, also called social homogeneity, is a universal American experience, whether you're white, black or Latino, and it has a greater impact on who you're likely to end up with than personal choice, Sinclair said.

"You end up with who you have access to, which is about proximity, opportunity, familiarity and all these things that are a function of our environment rather than explicit attitudes, " Sinclair said.

Online dating has the potential to create a more diverse pool of potential mates to draw from by removing the structural and environmental barriers entrenched in our communities. However, data show that social homogenization is showing up in online dating platforms through racial preferences and the proliferation of niche dating sites, even as the rate of online daters who say they "strongly prefer to date someone of their own race" decreases.

Studies show that African-Americans are at the greatest disadvantage on major dating sites, especially black women. Within this gap, some enterprising matchmakers see a business opportunity.

Coleman launched Soul Swipe in March with the tag line "Black Dating, Done Right." With its match, chat and swipe-left or -right functionality, it has the feel of Tinder and other location-based dating apps - but with more black people. Similar to Where White People Meet, the website says anyone can join, but typical users are is black women and men "looking for love or others with a desire to meet black singles, " Coleman said.

"We recognized there needed to be a specialized service for this community, " he said. "Data from our app and other dating sites show that African-American females are more active and feel more comfortable when dating within the African-American community."

Karazin, founder of Beyond Black & White, agrees that black women need a place where they know the odds are in their favor.

"They may not like you, but they like people like you, " she said. "Everyone wants that, a place where you can find like-minded people."

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