Can Differences in Partner Availability Explain Differences in Interracial/Ethnic Matching between Same- and Different-Sex Couple?

Schwartz, Christine, and Nikki L. Graf
Working paper no. 2010-07


Previous research has found that same-sex couples are more likely to be in interracial/ethnic partnerships than are different-sex couples. Drawing on search theory, we evaluate the plausibility of a common explanation for the higher likelihood of interracial/ethnic partnership among same-sex couples—that those seeking same-sex partners must widen their search because of the smaller pool of available partners. We use data from the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses and the 2005-7 American Community Survey to compare patterns of interracial/ethnic partnership among same-sex male cohabiting couples, same-sex female cohabiting couples, different-sex cohabiting couples, and different-sex married couples. We present multiple pieces of evidence that raise doubts about the availability hypothesis. Most of our measures indicate that in times and places where the availability of same-sex partners is greater, same-sex couples are more likely to be interracial/ethnic, a result opposite of what the availability hypothesis would predict. Our findings suggest the plausibility of other explanations for differences in interracial/ethnic matching between same- and different-sex couples, such as differences in preferences for partners, differences in the venues in which those seeking same- and different-sex partners meet, and differences in pressure from friends and family to form endogamous unions.