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BROUSSARD, D. A. (2001). The Effects of Race, Gender, and Self-esteem on College Students Interracial Dating Decisions. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

The Effects of Race, Gender, and Self-esteem on College Students Interracial Dating Decisions

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
Fifty-two college students (12 Blacks, 34 Whites, three Hispanics, and three others) were tested on their attitudes and what they believed society`s attitudes were on interracial dating. It was thought that the participants` race, gender, and self--esteem would have an impact on their attitudes. Participants took a self-esteem test, gave opinion and what they thought society`s opinion would be on different scenarios of interracial dating, and they rated twelve couples in order of what they thought society would believe to be acceptable. The data collected from the sample did not support the hypotheses that black women would be less accepting than other women, that minorities dating other minorities would be looked upon more favorably than minorities and whites dating or that the higher one`s self-esteem, the more open one would be to interracial dating. Certain limitations of this study prevent the findings from being consistent with previous research.

In the new millennium the dating scene has seen some gradual increases in certain practices that were once severely scrutinized. There are more gays who openly express themselves, girls who ask guys out, and younger people who date without chaperones. Perhaps, interracial dating has seen the biggest increase. The Census Bureau says that in the United States interracial marriages constitute around 4% of all marriages. They also noted that marriages between Blacks and Whites have quadrupled between 1960 and 1980 and the numbers are still increasing (Encarta Africana 2000). It is no longer uncommon to walk down the street and see two people of different races holding hands and enjoying each other`s company. Over the years there have been studies and investigations conducted to discover the public opinion on this controversial topic and reasons why people decide for or against interracial dating.

Many of these studies have found that Black women are the least accepting of inter-racial dating than any other racial group. Harpalani (1998) noted that in previous studies the group least likely to date interracially were Black women, and they also held the most negative opinion on the subject. Harpalani`s study surveyed and interviewed Black women college students. It sought to find out if Black women believed they had the opportunities to be in an interracial relationship and whether or nor they were even interested in this type of relationship. She formulated two hypotheses. The first one was the " Lack of perceived opportunities" hypothesis which basically stated that the skin color, body shape, and hair texture that many Black women possess do not live up to White American beauty standards and thus, are not valued, making Black women less attractive to other races (Harpalani, 1998). Harpalani also notes that Black women do not feel their beauty is valued because they have noticed that some Black men "subscribe to white ideals of beauty" and they "show a bias towards lighter skin". However, based on an interesting statistic that Harpalani points out, one might wonder why Black women are not the most accepting of interracial relationships. The statistic states that there is a "shortage" of Black men and, "assuming only heterosexual relationships, even if every Black man in college was committed to a Black woman, 39% of Black women would not have a college- educated Black mate. In American society as a whole, if every Black man was committed to a Black woman, about 20% of Black women would still be without a Black mate" (1998).

The second hypothesis was the "White Aversion" hypothesis. It was defined by the researcher as "protective racial socialization creates an aversion to Black-White relationships" (Harpalani 1998). This was due to a long history of sexual exploitation of Black women by White men, which could lead Black women to not want to be involved with a White man even if the opportunity was there. Another study said that they observed as opposed to Black men, Black women are less interested in interracial relationships (Murstein, Merighi & Malloy, 1989). This conclusion has been explained by the fact that some Black women do not feel their features are attractive according to White culture, thus lowering their self-esteem. Fiebert, Karamol, and Kasdan (2000) did a study that examined interracial dating behavior and attitudes toward interracial relationships. The participants were White, Black, Hispanics again college students. They filled out surveys about their willingness to be in an interracial relationship and their experience with interracial relationships. Fiebert found that Hispanics and Whites are more accepted as attractive than Blacks and Asians because of the concept that " those closest to the dominant American cultural norms in features, skin color, and cultural values are received as most desirable" (2000).Though Black women were not accepting of interracial relationships White men were the most accepting group. In this study conducted with California college students, White men were more positive in attitudes about interracial dating (Fiebert, 2000). This same study reported that 81 % of White men were willing to date outside of their race (Fiebert, 2000). However, none of these studies seemed to have stated why White men are the most accepting.If the Black Women are the least accepting, then how do Black men feel about interracial dating? Fiebert`s study noted that 75% of Black men would be willing to date outside of their race (2000). According to Microsoft Encarta Africana the amount of Black men marrying White women is higher than the amount of Black women marrying White men (Croal, 2000). Past studies, like the one conducted by Yancey in 1997 explains the Black man`s willingness with a theory known as hypogamy. The theory basically states that the races are like a caste system and White women are higher up in this caste system than Black men. In order for the Black man to attain a higher level in that system he will offer things like money and physical attractiveness to the White woman (Yancey, 1997). ln a study conducted by Merstein, Merighi, and Malloy, twenty interracial couples had been observed and rated on physical attractiveness by judges, themselves, and their partner. They thought that because we are in a racially prejudiced society that Blacks would have to offer more in a relationship with a White person. This led to them to hypothesize that in a Black-White relationship, Blacks would be more attractive than their White counterpart. After the couples were rated it was found that in the Black-White relationships Black men were considered more attractive (Merstein, 1989JAnother study gives the explanation that there are more Whites available to Blacks, Blacks are more exposed to White culture, and there are benefits to Blacks that join the majority. This was a study that had six hundred college students answer a survey that assessed attitudes about interracial relationships. It found that Blacks were more likely to report being accepting of an interracial relationship (Knox, 2000).Though quite a bit of research has been done on interracial dating, not all of the questions on this topic have been answered. One possible reason for women being attracted to another race that has been overlooked is the Oedipus complex. Tenzer claimed that, women with an unresolved Oedipus complex have an unconscious desire for a man of another race without guilt because that man is unlike her father (Tenzer, 1990). Other possible influences could be their family background (i.e. what region of the country they are from, whether or not anyone in their family has been involved in an interracial relationship), socioeconomic status, self-esteem, their perceived societal view, gender and like past studies have shown, their race. There have not been too many studies that examined all of these variables.This study examined some of the above-mentioned variables and their possible correlations in determining attitudes towards interracial dating. In this day and age many wonder why interracial dating is still so controversial. And the place where topics of controversy are always popular is the university. The university has also been the place where many people meet their future spouse. Thus, a college university was the perfect place to do this investigation.This study sought to answer whether a person`s race, gender and self-esteem influence their acceptance of interracial dating. Self-esteem was considered as a variable because previous research suggests that one who has higher self-esteem is likely to be more open-minded about different racial situations. Based on past research it was hypothesized that Black women would be the least accepting of all the groups in question. Some of this same research was the basis for the hypothesis that men are more accepting of interracial relationships than women. Within this acceptance, though, it was thought that a minority dating other minorities would be looked upon more favorably than minorities and Whites dating. As far as self-esteem was concerned, it was predicted that the higher one`s self-esteem, the more open one would be to interracial dating.

Participants The participants consisted 52 college students aged 18 - 22 years. The students were 13 males and 39 females. There were 12 Blacks, 34 Whites, three Hispanics, and three others. This study used convenience sampling to select the participants. A portion of the participants were males and females from Loyola University`s Psychology Department subject pool. These participants were given course credit for their participation in the study. The rest of the participants were Introduction to Psychology students from Xavier University who were given extra credit for their participation. Materials The first thing the researchers used was informed consents. There were two copies created, one for the participants and one for the researchers. If signed, it said that participant knew what study they were taking a part of and that they were willing to do so. For this study the researchers used the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. This scale has ten items that are answered on a four-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. It basically asks participants to rate their opinion on questions that dealt with how they feel about themselves. One of the statements said, "On the whole, I am satisfied with myself." The researchers also constructed their own demographic survey. It asked participants questions like their age, sex, race, and had they ever dated outside of their race. Then the participants were presented with four scenarios about dating, each one involving someone making a decision to either date within or outside of their race. The participants were asked to state whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with the decision made in each situation. Then they were asked to rate how they thought society might feel about the decision. Before participants could be called upon, a photo selection process had to be done to obtain the photos of the couples used. The pictures -were taken from a 1997 Loyola University yearbook using cap and gown pictures graduating seniors. All of the names were removed and a group of volunteers arranged the pictures according to their race. From there 12 different couple combinations were selected to present to participants.Design and ProcedureThis was a 4x2xl2 mixed group quasi-experimental design with four levels of race: Black, White, Hispanic, and other; two levels of gender: male and female as between factors and the twelve levels of couple combinations were the within factor being the racial makeup of the couples presented in the photos in researchers survey (see appendix). This study examined the relationships between race, gender, and self-esteem and how they influence college student`s attitudes on interracial dating. The independent variables were the participant`s race, gender, self-esteem as well as the couple combinations in the pictures. The dependent variables were the levels of acceptance the participants had to the pictures as well as society`s acceptance and the scenarios presented to them. To maintain control in the experiment when the pictures of the couples were presented, the male was always on the left, the pictures were all from the same yearbook, they all had the same attire (graduation cap and gown), and anyone that appeared to be over 22 was removed.Testing began when the participants were settled in the testing room they were given their informed consent papers. After everyone felt informed and made the choice of whether to take part or not, signed the consent form- one for own records and for the researcher. The demographic survey was passed out where participants had five minutes to complete it. Then Rosenberg`s self-esteem test was distributed and participants were given 10 minutes to complete that. Once that test was collected then researchers` survey was administered and participants were given 10 minutes to fill it out. Then the participants were given the pictures of the ten couples and they had 7 minutes to rate the pictures. After all the pictures were collected participants were debriefed. Basically they were told this was a study looking at college student`s attitudes towards interracial dating. Participants were given information on who to contact if they were having any trouble and were allowed to ask the researchers any questions they had. After the participants questions were answered, and they were thanked for their participation and then they were allowed to leave.

ResultsThis study had 52 participants, 13 males and 39 females, with a mean age of 19.1. The first hypothesis that stated that black females would be the least accepting used a 2x2 between subjects ANOVA test. Sex and race are the independent variables and individual acceptance of interracial relationships was the dependent variable. The mean score for Black females (M = 11.00, SD = 1.49) was the same as the mean score for Black males (M = 11.00, SD =.65) but lower than the mean score for White females (M = 12.20, SD = 1.50) and for White males (M = 11.80, SD = .63). This proved not to have significance F (1, 42) = .13, p > .05, with an alpha level of .05. For the hypothesis that stated that males would be more accepting than females of interracial dating. A one-way between subjects ANOVA test was used with sex as the independent variables and individual acceptance of interracial relationships as the dependent variable. The mean score for male (M = 11.67, SD = .65) was slightly lower than for females (M = 11.85, SD = 1.58). Gender proved not to have significance, F(1, 42) = .13, p > .05.For the hypothesis that stated that it would be more acceptable for minorities to date other minorities than for minorities to date Whites, however, only the responses from Black and White participants were used. The mean score for acceptance with a White/minority couple was 6.96 (SD = .79). The mean score for acceptance with a minority/minority couple was 4.85 (SD = 1.05). A two-way, within-subjects ANOVA was computed, and even though it did not support our hypothesis, there was statistical significance F (1, 45) = 134.46, p < .05.Each scenario was also looked at individually. Scenario one involved a white person dating a minority and was the most acceptable (M = 3.58, SD = .48). The scenario for the third one was a Black dating a Hispanic (M = 2.60, SD = .77). Scenario four involved a Black dating an Asian and this one was the least accepted ( M = 2.08, SD = .81). . A two-way, within-subjects ANOVA was computed to examine if participants viewed the scenarios differently. If was found to be significant, F(1, 44) = 131.84, p <.05.The last hypothesis stated that those participants with a higher self esteem would be more accepting of interracial dating. The mean of self-esteem for participants was 8.67 (SD= 1.58). A Pearson Correlation was computed and found not to be significant, r (51)= .04, p > .05.Even though it was not an original hypothesis, we found that there was a racial difference between the way Black viewed society’s acceptance and the way Whites viewed society’s acceptance. The mean for Blacks’ belief on society’s acceptance was 8.6 (SD=1.9) and the mean level for Whites was 9.8 (SD=1.2). A one way, between subjects ANOVA was computed.

DiscussionPrevious research led to the hypothesis that Black women be the least accepting of interracial dating and that men would be the most accepting group. It also led to the hypothesis that people would be more accepting of minorities dating minorities than of minorities dating Whites. There was also a hypothesis that said participants with high self-esteem would be more open to interracial dating. Because the probability value was higher than an alpha level of .05, results did not support any of these hypotheses.

The fact that the results did not support the hypotheses contradicts previous research. The hypothesis claiming that Black women would be the least accepting was stated because in a study by Harpalani (1998) it was noted that in previous studies the group least likely to date interracially were Black women, and they also held the most negative opinion on the subject. The Merstein (1989) study observed that compared to Black men, Black women were the least interested in interracial relationships. Perhaps this study would have come to the same conclusion if there had been more Black women in the study. Future research should control the number of Black women in the study so that they are almost equal in number with the other groups. Previous research supported the hypothesis that White men would be the most accepting group. The Fiebert (2000) study found 81% of White men willing to date outside their race. Once again the number of participants for this group could have been the reason why they hypothesis was not supported. The biggest lack of representation was with the Black male. There were only 2 males whose surveys were filled out correctly. With only 2 participants, it was difficult to be accurate or get significant support for how accepting Black men are of interracial dating. More participants may not necessarily support the hypothesis but it will provide a greater generalizability. This study included the independent variable of self -esteem which previous studies did not include, though there was no significant relationship between self- esteem and one`s acceptance of interracial dating. This could be because most of the participants had relatively high self-esteem.The results from the scenario were quite interesting. The Black participants were almost equal in their level of acceptance with Black men, showing that Black men perhaps are not as accepting in certain situations as previously thought. The Black participants also thought that society was less accepting of interracial dating than they themselves were. This could mean that Blacks think that society is still hesitant in finding them acceptable enough to date. It was surprising that the scenarios where minorities dated other minorities were found less acceptable than the scenarios where a white person dated a minority. This could be attributed to the fact that most of the participants were White females attending a liberal arts college. Perhaps, they wanted to appear open-minded to something not usually socially acceptable. In the scenario where the Black guy chose the Asian girl instead of the Black girl, it was found to be one of the least acceptable. Among Black women, this might be because the Black man, who Black women have the strongest connection to, chose a woman of a different race. It is unexplainable why the other groups found it unacceptable.Though this study brought in the variable of self-esteem, there are other ways that this study could be conducted in the future. Maybe the number of independent variables could be limited to just race or sex or race and sex or self-self-esteem, and the rest could be controlled. A big factor for future research is that the sample should be more diverse. By making the sample more diverse researchers can make better inferences about the overall population. Hopefully, one day the inferences these studies make about the population will actually reflect the population. Interracial dating is steadily increasing whether society accepts it or not.


Croal, A. (2000). Love in Black and White. Retrieved September 18, 2001, from Microsoft Encarta Africana.com.Fiebert, M. S., Karamol, H., & Kasdan, M. (2000). Interracial dating: attitudes and experience among american college students in california. Psychological Reports, 87, 1059-1064.Harpalani, V. (1998). Black Women`s Attitudes Towards Interracial Relationships - A Different Perspective. Retrieved September 11, 2001, http:// dolphin.upenn.edu. Knox, D., Zusman, M., Buffington, C., & Hemphill, G. (2000) Interracial dating attitudes among college students. College Student Journal, 34,69 – 73.Marstein, B. I., Merighi, J.R., & Malloy, T.E. (1989). Physical attractiveness and exchange theory in interracial dating. The Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 325-334.Tenzer, L.R. (1990). A Completely New Look At Interracial Sexuality: Public Opinion and Select Commentaries. Manahawkin, New Jersey: Scholars` Publishing House.Yancey, G.A., & Yancey, S.W. (1997). Black-White differences in the use of personal advertisements for individuals seeking interracial relationships. Journal of Black Studies, 27, 650-667.

Submitted 12/16/2001 11:00:31 PM
Last Edited 12/16/2001 11:16:12 PM
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