Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
Home |
The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
NORCROSS, D. L. (2002). College Students` Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Interracial Dating. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

College Students` Attitudes and Behaviors Toward Interracial Dating

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
Abstract The study was conducted to investigate if there is a relationship between college students’ reports of parental attitudes regarding interracial dating and a behavioral measure of college students’ attitudes toward interracial dating. It was hypothesized that students’ actions will reflect the ideals of their parents regarding interracial dating rather than their own. Eighty-five undergraduate college students participated, including 49 females and 36 males. The variables correlated in the study were students’ own expressed attitudes, their reports of parental attitudes regarding interracial dating, and a behavioral measure of attitudes toward interracial dating (willingness to create interracial pairs in a couple matching exercise). The relationship between perceived parental acceptance and students’ matching behavior was not significant. However, significant differences were found between students’ reported acceptance of the idea of interracial dating and their reported willingness to participate in an interracial relationship. It was also found that there was a significant difference in students’ reported acceptance of interracial dating based on sex. Males reported to be more willing to accept interracial dating than females. The study’s findings advanced the field of study on interracial dating by taking into consideration students’ reported parental views, but future studies should be performed to take the idea even farther and perhaps look into actual parents’ attitudes.

College Students’ attitudes and behaviors toward Interracial Dating In the past few years there have been a number of investigations into interracial friendships and romantic relationships (Davidson, 1992). Interracial dating is among the fastest growing non-traditional dating interest, averaging at about 5% of all marriages in the US (Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998). The problems that are set forth for the present generation is how do they feel about interracial dating, what is socially acceptable for them to feel about interracial dating, how their parents would react to interracial dating, and what they will honestly admit publicly as their views on the subject at hand. It is important to study college students’ behaviors and attitudes on interracial dating. They are beginning to explore their tastes at business, social, and sexual levels, which leaves them prime for confusion of their real ideals toward relationships and the ideals that they have been taught to have. This conflict of ideals, between the students’ true ideals or the ideals that they have been taught to believe, brings us to ponder on what attitudes students present to the public. In a previous study (Knox, 2000) it was found that 49.6% of participants said that they agreed with interracial dating. Of these 83% were African-Americans. Knox studied the relationship of acceptance of interracial relationships among college students and greater diversity in colleges and universities. He believed that greater diversity would result in more open-minded students and a greater appreciation of interracial relationships. It was found that African Americans were twice as likely as Caucasians (83% vs. 43%) to be open to interracial relationships. Davidson (1992) also found that African Americans have a more favorable attitude toward interracial romantic relationships than Caucasians, which corroborates Knox’s findings. Knox found that among college students, diversity brought more open-minded thinking. This brings us to another conflict of Caucasian teachings versus African American teachings. Are parental factors responsible for the influence on students’ beliefs, or do cultural and racial factors come into play? In many black families, mothers play a key role in accepting relationships, while in white families fathers are the predominant decision makers (Knox, 2000). Parental roles are also part of one’s culture and environment that influence beliefs. Social standards also influence both attitudes and actions toward interracial dating. Social standards in one’s environment may influence a person’s decision on what their own thoughts may be on dating among different races. For students, school is the dominant form of social environment that they encounter, therefore school standards and qualities create the social standards in students’ lives. A schools’ racial composition and the norms of social distance in that environment influence students’ chances of developing interests or actual interracial relationships (Wilensky, 2002). Wilensky reviewed Joyner’s (2000) study on interethnic relationships among adolescents as tied in to the social structure of schools. Joyner found that nearly a fifth of the students surveyed out of 100,000 students from the ages of 12-18, have participated in an interracial relationship. This is a large number of students, but they were from large city and rural schools with diverse and homogenous student populations, therefore only representing the city and rural populations of students and excluding the urban and suburban communities. Along with Knox’s study, Joyner still leaves out family issues that our study takes into consideration. Another consideration in past research is sex differences found in the acceptance of interracial dating. It has been found in many studies men are more willing to participate in interracial relationships no matter what race questioned. White men were the most accepting group in a 2000 study in California where it was found that 81% of white men were willing to date outside their race (Fiebert, 2000). Fiebert’s study also noted that 75% of African American men were willing to date outside their race (2000). Yancey (1997) explained African American men’s willingness best by developing a theory known as hypogamy, which developed the idea that African American men would willingly date Caucasian women to gain social status. Elder (1969) developed a theory similar to hypogamy, called the General Exchange Theory. This theory believes that Caucasians will only date outside of their race if the minority that they choose has a surplus of beneficial qualities, such as money, physical attractiveness, or social power. Women on the other hand reported negative and prejudicial attitudes toward interracial relationships no matter if they were African American or Caucasian (Mills, 1995). Some are mostly concerned about compatibility if marriage is the case (Warren, 2002). Warren (2002) discussed the idea that incompatibility and very few similarities may cause high stress on a relationship, and it can be a determining factor in a good interracial relationship. Once again as Wilensky (2002) stated in his review, Joyner believed that social background has an influence on relationships, as Warren (2002) also does too, that compatibility and similarities may come from economic influence rather than race. Previous research does point out that people are willing to accept interracial couples, but the number of people who are actually involved in relationships themselves is still fairly small, 5% (Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998). This is why studies still need to be performed, to see if the afore- mentioned factors have significant influence over the upcoming generations’ ideals. Previous studies on interracial dating have failed to investigate how parent’s teachings influences students’ thoughts, that is why we proposed a study that involved studying college students’ ideals and attitudes that they were willing to share, how they compare to what they believe that their parents would feel about interracial dating, and what college students’ actual actions would be toward interracial dating concepts. It was hypothesized that students’ actions will reflect the ideals of their parents regarding interracial dating rather than their ownOur study developed the thought that parents’ teachings have great significance over their children’s thoughts even though our generation is found to be much more open-mined and free spirited about controversial ideas. We asked students to freely express their opinions on different non-traditional dating couples and then asked if they would participate in different dating styles and if their parents would agree with those dating styles. To determine if parental influence, social desirability, or self -deception occurred we followed the survey with a coupling exercise where the students were asked to pair different people together. They were given two sheets of paper that contained both six pictures and six interest captions. Every interest caption contained information on a person’s background, interests, and hobbies. Participants were then asked to match each man with a woman who they deemed would make a good couple. From this exercise we determined if they actively put together people of the same race or people with the same interests. We expected that students would be willing to say that they were accepting toward interracial dating, but their actions would reflect otherwise. It was hypothesized that students’ actions will reflect the ideals of their parents regarding interracial dating rather than their own. The main points of focus were on students’ attitudes, their parents’ attitudes, and how the students’ actions would compare to their stated attitudes.



Eighty-five undergraduate university students between the ages of 18 and 21 volunteered to participate, including 49 females and 36 males. All students of any racial background were allowed to participate willingly and were sectioned in Caucasian and Non-Caucasian categories. There were 46 participants in the Caucasian group and 39 participants in the Non- Caucasian group. No compensation was given for participation other than that which the participants’ own teachers may have supplied in the form of course credit. Participants were recruited through convenience sampling from World Religions classes, Psychology classes, and Mathematics classes.


Informed consent forms were used to inform the participants about the study and obtain the consent for participation. The participants were informed that they could back out of the experiment at anytime without penalty and a reference to a counseling center were given if any student needed counseling because of any uneasy feelings or concerns that arose during their participation in the study. Two different types of self-reports were used. The first contained twelve questions that asked participants to circle either yes or no to whether their parents approved of interracial dating, dating with age differences greater than 10 years, and same sex dating. They were also asked to circle yes or no to if they themselves approved of interracial dating, dating with age differences greater than 10 years, and same sex dating, and also if they would participate in an interracial relationship, a relationship with an age gap greater than 10 years, and a same sex relationship. Besides these questions, the survey asked participants to state their ethnic background which best described themselves as well as their age and class in college. The second task was a pairing activity. Six pictures of females (3 Caucasian, 3 African American) were placed on one sheet of paper and numbered 1-6, while six pictures of males (3 Caucasian, 3 African American) were placed on another sheet of paper, lettered A- F. The instructions at the top of the answer sheet stated ‘Match the number 1-6 with the letter of the man that you think an appropriate woman goes with’. Under each of the pictures was a fictitious description that conveyed the person’s identity and interests (see Appendix B). Each picture and interest had a corresponding best-fit match that was of a different race. An answer sheet was given for the matching exercise, to match each female to one male. Design and Procedure This was a correlational study designed to see if there was a correlation between students’ attitudes and behaviors toward interracial dating, and their parent’s attitudes. The variables in this study were the levels of attitudes of college students toward interracial dating, the students’ parents’ views on interracial dating, college students’ willingness to participate in interracial relationships, and college students’ actions toward pairing the individuals on the second survey. Attitudes were defined in the survey by the students answers of yes or no to their participation and agreement toward interracial dating, while the parents’ attitudes were defined by the students answers of yes or no to what they thought their parents felt. For those questions the answer yes pertained to the idea of positive attitudes and no pertained to the idea of negative attitudes. Actions were defined by the way the students paired the individuals, by either their race or by their interest captions. Participants filled out the activity and surveys in closed classrooms to control any nuisance variables, such as noise. Also participants were only found in classrooms or from the Psychology participant pool to ensure that only students would be participating in the study. Students from undergraduate classes were approached during class time. The informed consent form was passed around first and the students were asked to read through all the material before signing. As the students were reading the form, the researcher gave a brief overview of the form stressing the key points of anonymity, rights to withdraw information, and counseling available. The researcher then asked the students to sign their names to the bottom of the form and date the form; they were also given a second copy for their own records if they wished to participate. The forms were then collected and any students who did not wish to participate were allowed to leave. The packets were then passed out with the pairing activity on top and the written survey on the bottom. The researcher then gave brief instructions and asked participants to fill out the matching exercise first before turning the page to the next survey. The researcher asked each student not to put any identifying marks or names on the survey to help keep all data anonymous. The researcher asked the participants to match each woman and her corresponding number to the man and his corresponding letter, to where the participant felt they made a good match. The researcher then asked that when they were done with the matching exercise if they would then turn to the next page and fill out the written self-report. They were also told to circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the answer that best fit each question according to their own individual feelings. The participants were also told to not write on the picture forms, but to put the answers on the answer sheet given. After the surveys were completed (about 15 min.) the researcher collected all of those who willingly completed all of the surveys and discarded those from the students who wished to withdraw their data. When all of the surveys were completed the researcher then debriefed the students. The students were told that only data on the interracial questions would be used and that the study only focused on the students’ attitudes and ideals toward interracial dating and how their parents’ views may have influenced how they paired the couples together. The participants were told that comparing the parents‘ views to the students’ views, and then comparing those to how the students paired the individuals on the coupling activity would measure the correlation of influence of parental teachings on students’ attitudes and actions.


An independent samples t-test was used to determine if there was any difference between the students who reported their parents approved of interracial dating and those who reported parental disapproval, in terms of their performance on the behavioral attitude measure (determined by the amount of interracial couples matched in a couple matching exercise). It was hypothesized that students’ actions will reflect the ideals of their parents regarding interracial dating rather than their own. In a sample of 85 undergraduate students the incidence of reported parental acceptance was 68.2%, reported student acceptance was 95.3%, while the mean for students’ behaviors (calculated by the average number of couples interracially paired), was 4.52 (SD=1.78). The independent samples t-test between parental acceptance and student behavior was t = 0.210, p = 0.834 with df = 83. Therefore the main results did not significantly support the original hypothesis. However a Chi squared test found a significant difference between student and parental acceptance (÷2 = 11.306, p = .001). Additional statistically significant relationships were found between students’ sex and acceptance, parental acceptance and students’ willingness to participate in interracial relationships, as well as between students’ acceptance and willingness. The statistical findings between students’ sex and reported acceptance were ÷ 2=69.753, p<.001 where males were more accepting than females, while a chi-squared test also reported significant statistical differences between perceived parental acceptance and students’ willingness to participate in interracial relationships, ÷ 2 = 9.143, p = .001, students’ were much more willing to participate in and interracial relationship than perceived parental attitudes were willing to accept interracial relationships as a whole. It was also found that there was a significant difference between students’ reported acceptance and their willingness to participate in interracial relationships, ÷ 2 = 4.455, p < .05; students reported to be more willing to accept interracial dating as a whole than they were willing to participate in an interracial relationship. Unfortunately there was no significant statistical evidence to relate participants’ race to students’ reported acceptance, ÷ 2 = .576, p = .448.


It was hypothesized that students’ behavioral measures would reflect the ideals of their parents regarding interracial dating rather than their own. The relationship compared in the study was between perceived parental acceptance and students’ behaviors. The students’ behaviors were measured by how many pairs of interracial couples they were willing to make on the couple matching exercise. The statistical findings did not support the relationship that was hypothesized, which may be due to many various reasons. The study found significant relationships that further relate to past research. There was a significant relationship between the sex of subjects and acceptance of interracial relationships. It was found that females were less likely to accept interracial relationships. Fiebert (2000) found that white men were the most accepting group in his study (at an acceptance level of 81%), where as women were less accepting. Mill et al. (1995) also found women to have more negative attitudes toward interracial dating. The study was also able to find a significant difference between parent acceptance and student acceptance. Students were much more willing to accept interracial dating than parents. This is important for the study because previous research has left out the comparison of students to parents. Therefore the study was not a complete loss, but should be reviewed and reworked to revolve around significant findings and to see if they will compare to the original hypothesis, that parental acceptance influences students behaviors toward interracial dating. Social desirability may have been a reason for the shortcomings of the study. It was possible that the college surroundings influenced students to present themselves as more accepting than they truly are. Past research indicated that one’s environment influences one’s ideals. In the Wilensky study (2002) it was found that higher learning schools’ environments influenced students’ ideals on interracial relationships. This implies that students tend to be influenced by their learning environment and peers, and tend to act according to social standards presented by the academic environment. Many college students, including those in this sample, may have been influenced by their schools’ environment. Small sample size and low power of the study could have also influenced the findings. A lack of participants from a variety of racial backgrounds limited the findings on race and acceptance of relationships. Many non-Caucasian students explicitly refused to participate in the study, which may have been a reason for the low sample size. Unfortunately there is no known reason for their refusal. The small sample size from a large population threatened the external validity of the study. The fact that no significance was found between race and acceptance is contradictory to past research. Davidson and Schneider (1992) found that African Americans were more likely to accept interracial relationships; while Knox (2000) further concluded this by finding that African American’s were twice as likely to accept interracial relationships (83%- 43%). Another reason that could account for the failure of the study would be the vagueness of the surveys. Perhaps more detailed and in depth questions could be asked to obtain greater detail in students’ true ideals. Also a more in depth study of parental ideals may reveal less compliance with interracial relationships than this study found. Students may not truly know their parents’ ideals on the subject and only guessed based on their own feelings. This speculated estimation on behalf of the students may have influenced internal validity of the study. Also, the couple matching exercise may need to be reworked. The pictures and interest captions may have been too obvious, which caused students to speculate what the study was looking for and answered accordingly, proving social desirability. The obvious interest captions may have also overwhelmed the participants and distracted them from giving any consideration to the pictures, therefore offering more interracial pairs. Improvements should be made in future studies that will improve the internal validity of future findings. A larger and more diverse sample size should be pursued to ensure a greater likelihood of an adequate population prediction. The written survey questions could be reworded to find more in depth answers, and surveys could be sent out to parents to get true parental data. The couple matching exercise could also be reworked to make the researchers’ hypothesis less recognizable, or the interest captions should be changed to give more than one obvious match for each picture. In conclusion, this study attempted to find a relationship between perceived parental acceptances of interracial dating and how it influences students’ behavioral attitudes toward interracial dating as compared to their reported feelings. The study did not find any statistically significant results to support the original hypothesis, but was able to find statistically significant underlying trends that make further investigation possible. Theoretically the study did find a relationship between perceived parental acceptance and students’ behavioral measures. While students’ behavioral measures were more accepting, they both showed relatively high positive attitudes toward interracial dating. All the variables showed acceptance toward interracial dating, but at different levels, therefore showing that perceived parental acceptance may have influence students’ acceptance and behaviors in a positive direction instead of a negative direction as the original hypothesis predicted. According to the evidence found in this study it can be assumed that perceived parental acceptance did have an influence on students’ attitudeand should be pursued by future studies to find it statistically relevant. Implications of other results show that there are relationships between parental acceptance of interracial dating and students’ acceptance, behaviors toward, and willingness to participate in an interracial relationship. There were also implications found to relate sex to acceptance. These findings not only reinforce past studies findings, but also lay new data on the psychological workbench to allow further studies to find more underlying theoretical relationships. Prospective studies in this field can further explore the relationship of parents and students’ ideals on interracial dating as well as further add power to this study to find a relationship among the races as previous research has found before.

ReferencesDavidson, J.R., Schneider, L.J. (1992). Acceptance of Black-White interracial marriage. Journal of Intergroup Relations, 19, 47-52.Elder, G.H. (1969). Appearance and education in marriage mobility. American Sociological Review, 34, 519-533. Fiebert, M.S., Karamol, H., & Kasdan, M. (2000). Interracial Dating: Attitudes and Experienceamong American College Students in California. Psychological Reports, 87, 1059-1064.Knox, D., Zusman, M.E., Buffington, C., & Hemphill, G. (2000). Interracial Dating Attitudesamong College Students. College Student Journal, 34, 69-73.Mills, J.K., Daly, J., Longmore, A., Kilbride, G. (1995). A note on family acceptance involvinginterracial friendships and romantic relationships. The Journal of Psychology, 129, 349-352.Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1998, 118th ed. (1998) Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureauof the Census, 1998.Warren, N.C. (2002). Should we have concerns about interracial marriages? RetrievedSeptember 29, 2002, from http://www.crosswalk.com/community/singles/1164789.html.Wilensky, J. (2002). Relationships: What factors affect the occurrence of interracial andinter-ethnic relationships among adolescents? Human Ecology, 30, 16-19.Yancey, G. & Yancey, S. (1998). Interracial Dating: evidence from personal advertisements.Journal of Family Issues, 19, 334-349.

Survey 1

1) (circle one) FR SO JR SR2) (circle one) Female/ male3) What is your ethnic background? ______________4) Do you agree with people dating with large age gaps (10yrs. or more)? Y N5) Do your parents agree with people dating with large age gaps (10yrs. or more)? Y N6) Would you date someone within a large age gap (10yrs. or more) of yourself? Y N7) Do you agree with homosexual dating? Y N8) Do your parents agree with homosexual dating? Y N9) Would you date someone of the same gender as you? Y N10) Do you agree with interracial dating? Y N11) Do your parents agree with interracial dating? Y N12) Would you date someone of a different race than yourself? Y N Survey 2 (pictures not available)

Match number 1-6 with the letter of the man that you think an appropriate woman goes with. Do not write on the pictures only place your numbers beside the letters below.


Submitted 12/11/2002 1:45:47 PM
Last Edited 12/11/2002 2:13:52 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

Rated by 1 users. Average Rating:
Users who logon can rate manuscripts and write reviews.

© 2023 National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse. All rights reserved. The National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse is not responsible for the content posted on this site. If you discover material that violates copyright law, please notify the administrator. This site receives money through the Google AdSense program when users are directed to useful commercial sites. We do not encourage or condone clicking on the displayed ads unless you have a legitimate interest in the advertisement.