Full Disclosure: Experimental Analysis of Female Online Dating on Parole

cover_jexpercrimEvans, Douglas (2019). Journal of Experimental Criminology.

Research has considered the effect of convictions on employment and housing outcomes, but there are limited studies exploring how criminal justice contact affects the initiation of relationships. This study uses an experimental design to explore how people react to criminal stigma in the context of online dating.

Female online dating profiles were created using pre-rated, open access photographs of women that varied in race (Black, White, Latino). These three profiles comprised the control condition. The experimental condition consisted of the same exact three profiles with one exception: a brief mention of their being on parole in written profile bios. The three profiles attempted to match with 6000 online daters each in the control and experimental conditions across 18 online dating platforms (N = 36,000).

Findings indicate that the Black and Latina profiles matched significantly less frequently when disclosing parole. In the parole disclosure condition, White female profiles received significantly more matches than Black and Latino profiles, and White females disclosing parole matched at a higher rate than White females not disclosing parole.

The stigma of a criminal record is damaging for Blacks and Latinas who disclose parole in online dating bios, but for White females, disclosure of parole does not hinder and may even help their online dating match success. The stigma of being minority appears to compound criminal stigma in online dating. This has crucial implications for the relationships of formerly incarcerated because prosocial romantic relationships reduce recidivism.