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All cultures have rules regarding mate selection. Many societies encourage either homogamy or heterogamy. Homogamy refers to marriage between individuals with similar social and personal characteristics, whereas heterogamy refers to marriage between individuals with different social or personal characteristics. Although there is some freedom in mate selection in American society, the United States is still basically a society whose norms encourage homogamy. Some of the major factors that influence mate selection include socioeconomic status, race, age, and parental and peer pressures.
The purpose of this article is to examine the attitudes and preferences of African American college students toward physical and social status related variables regarding dating and future mate selection. Several social status and attractiveness related variables, along with selected background variables (including gender), were analyzed to note relationship patterns. Of particular interest was the importance of skin color or skin tone and social status as mate selection preferences among African American college students. There may be vast differences between attitudes toward mate selection and actual behaviors when selecting mates for marriage. Attitudinal research on skin color and social status preferences as they relate to mate selection on African American populations is lacking.
HISTORICAL NOTES ON AFRICAN AMERICAN MATE SELECTION
During various points in slavery, social factors regarding homogamy, such as economic and class statuses, were somewhat limited because large numbers of slaves had similar social statuses. Social statuses among slaves seems to have been perpetuated by the house and field slave roles, with the house slave carrying the more socially accepted role. Masters often gave house slaves, who were oftentimes mulattoes, slightly better clothes and elevated their status. Many of these house slaves, who were offspring of their masters, had lighter complexions and were told that they were better than their darker-skinned counterparts. Lighter-skinned Blacks also brought higher prices at the slave market and were deemed to have higher social statuses (Russell, Wilson, & Hall, 1992). Although it is well known that not all African Americans were enslaved, this social echelon based on color became an important distinction. The lighter the complexion, the better off he or she was in the eyes of the majority group members. This belief spread and was also internalized among many Blacks.
Research conducted during the 1940s through the 1960s noted how skin tone was related to socioeconomic status, employment, and mate selection among Blacks (Drake & Cayton, 1962). Lighter-skinned Blacks were more favored by Whites because they were closer in appearance to Whites. Different categories of skin color were related to categories of the jobs for which one was eligible (Drake & Cayton, 1962). Lighter complexioned persons were oftentimes given higher paying jobs and exposed to better opportunities. It was considered better business if lighter workers were hired by Whites. Lighter skin was also positively related to stratification outcomes (e.g., level of education, occupational status, and income) and negatively related to Black awareness (Hughes & Hertel, 1990; Keith & Herring, 1991). The skin color distinction became quite important and a part of ethnocentrism, more specifically, Eurocentrism. Skin color also became a source of status among African Americans and became a part of the fabric of mate selection (Goode, 1982). A premium or mark of status was placed on a woman who was not Black or very dark and for an African American man to marry a light-skinned woman (Zack, 1995).
A CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF SOCIAL STATUS, SKIN COLOR, AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MATE SELECTION
There are many socialization agents regarding preferences in mate selection. Goode (1982) notes that mate selection is controlled by kin or family and that this control is greater as socioeconomic status increases. The family is but one of these socialization agents. Other agents, such as the media, peers, religion, …