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With the data set, Lewis has been able to do what's been so hard for sociologists to do previously: to disentangle preference from circumstance.
Homophily -- the old "birds of a feather" phenomenon that finds people seeking out those who are similar to them -- is alive and well in the online dating world, particularly when it comes to race. While homophily is a big factor in terms of determining whether a user sends that initial message -- you're much more likely to reach out to someone of your own racial background than you are to reach out to someone of a different race -- similarity can actually hurt your chances of receiving a reply.
And diversity, for its part, can help those chances.
Marriage records note racial backgrounds and religion, Lewis notes, but not much more than that -- and they definitely lack information about the personal qualities that create that notoriously unquantifiable thing we call "chemistry." For his dissertation research, Lewis got ahold of a large selection of Ok Cupid's trove of data, which contains information not only about user demographics, but also about user behavior.
The (anonymized) info allows for analysis, Lewis told me, of contacts made from one user to another -- and of contacts not made (and, ostensibly, decided against).