Duke University Scholar Finds That “Beauty Is in the Ear of the Beholder”
A new study by Robert L. Reece, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke University and former Global Inequality Research Initiative (GIRI) student, finds that when test subjects are told a person is of mixed-racial heritage, that person is perceived as more attractive than when test subjects are told the person is Black. Reece's paper, "What Are You Mixed With: The Effect Of Multiracial Identification On Perceived Attractiveness," was written as a part of the GIRI course and published in the latest issue of The Review of Black Political Economy (June 2016, Volume 43, Issue 2).
"Being exotic is a compelling idea," Reece says. "So people are attracted to a certain type of difference. It’s also partially just racism – the notion that Black people are less attractive, so being partially not-Black makes you more attractive."
Reece used data from in-person interviews of 3,200 Black people as part of the National Longitudinal Study for Adolescent Health. The interviewers were asked to rate the attractiveness of the people who they had just interviewed. The people who told the interviewers that they were Black received an average score on 3.47 on an attractiveness scale of 1 to 5. Those who told the interviewers they were of mixed race received an average score of 3.74, a significant difference even when Reece controlled for factors such as age, skin tone, hair color, eye color, and gender. Dark-skinned Blacks who told the interviewers that they were mixed race were rated higher in attractiveness than light-skinned individuals who identified themselves as Black. Reece concludes that being told a person is of mixed race – regardless of what the person looks like – makes them appear more attractive.