A look at ethnic dating in Australia

For some Australians, maintaining a sense of cultural identity remains important in their choice of partner.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)



In a multicultural country like Australia, marriage or partnering outside of one's ethnic group is no longer unusual.

While it's too early to know how high the inter-ethnic partnering rate will be for the children and grandchildren of recently-arrived migrants, Australian Bureau of Statistics data suggests that by the third generation it's a common occurrence.

Add to this the fact that many Australians already have mixed ancestry and the idea of marrying within one's own racial or religious group is no longer a given.

But for some, maintaining a sense of cultural identity remains important in their choice of partner.

And these people are embracing new technology along with more traditional means in their search for a partner from the same background.

Michelle Lewis runs J-Junction, a matchmaking service for the Jewish community - which while being ethnically diverse, retains its links to culture and religion.

She says she runs the service not only to help people find a relationship but also to help maintain the community.

"The reason that continuity is so important for the Jewish community is that if we look at the statistics - and we do when there's a census, we look at those and we have people who do reports on them - and within a couple of generations at the current rate of intermarriage there will be hardly any people worldwide outside of Israel who actually identify as Jewish."

The Australian National University's Siew-Ean Khoo has examined a variety of data, including 2006 Census figures and marriage registration statistics, to compile a profile of interethnic partnering in Australia.

It shows an increase across all ancestry groups, with a large jump in some groups such as those of Greek, Lebanese or Chinese ancestry.

In these groups, first generation inter-partnering rates sit at around 10 per cent, and increase to 30 per cent or more in the second generation and 60 per cent or more by the third generation.

It's a trend that Michelle Lewis's J-Junction is seeking to resist in the Jewish community.

Ms Lewis says there's still a stigma attached to meeting people through a matchmaking or online service and this can stop people from looking at these avenues.

But she says in communities like hers, things can be easier, as people often have some loose connection to each other prior to meeting.

"A lot of them have been to school together, or if they don't know someone they know of them or they've seen them out socially and this is something that we do work with. Sometimes we fight an uphill battle. We do say to people, do you know this person or do you know of them? Have you actually sat down one on one and had a chat to them? Do you just know their name and see them around? Because if you haven't actually sat down with them one on one and had a cup of tea or a drink or a meal or whatever, then you don't really know them. You haven't given them or yourself a chance to get to know anything about them."

Online matchmaking services are available for a very broad range of groups in Australia.

Greek, Aboriginal, Korean, Indian and Muslim services are on offer, as well as some for people specifically interested in interracial relationships.

Along with these are the mainstream sites, the largest being RSVP which caters for everyone, but does have an option where people can state a preference for a particular ethnic background.

In RSVP's own survey of more than 3,000 people last year, more than a third rated ethnic background as important when identifying a suitable partner.

Sharon Delmage is the Chair of Communication and Media studies at Murdoch University in Western Australia.

She's also completed a study looking at online dating in Australia.

Ms Delmage says the practice of online dating or matchmaking has evolved and adapted to meet the needs of specific ethnic groups.

"There are some studies that would look specifically at particular sites. For example I know that the Indian community would use different sites. Their sites are really interesting. They have quite different filters and parameters that they use to filter people and they might actually have family members who would go on there looking for a suitable spouse, whereas other people in Australia would be doing it themselves, rather than have someone do it for them."

Academics Lyndon Walker from Swinburne University and Genevieve Heard from Monash University have analysed 2011 census data.

Their yet-to-be published work shows higher levels of ethnic intermarriage amongst those from Anglo-Celtic countries, than among those from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

They stress that it's too early to determine whether these patterns are due to ethnic preferences or length of time in Australia.

Previous research suggests that intermarriage is likely to increase, the longer any migrant group is in Australia.

But as Lyndon Walker explains, even then, there can be a degree of ethnic preference shown.

"Once you get to second or third generation, people who identify with an overseas ancestry but were born in Australia, they tend to be much more likely to intermarry. For some groups we see assymetry where they may not be with someone from their own country of origin or their own ancestry but they may have chose someone who is quite similar. So if we're looking at someone from Pakistan or Bangladesh, if they don't have a partner who has come from the same country as themselves, they're more likely to have a partner, for instance someone from Pakistan, if their partner is not also from Pakistan, then they're more likely to be from Bangladesh than from Austalia. Where as someone from New Zealand, if they don't have a new Zealand partner, quite likely to be either Australian, English or South African. And then amongst the countries where you're likely to see high proportion of Muslim people you're likely to see high interactions there. "

Dipak Mankodi is the founder of Matrimilap, a matchmaking service for the Indian community in Australia.

He says Indians are much more likely to meet partners through traditional means, with meetings often arranged by family.

But he's also embraced technology as an efficient way of facilitating matches.

Mr Mankodi describes how his process works.

"I create a database for the bride and the groom which only has the basic information as to the names and contact details of, age, height, their dietary requirements, because we do have families who are strictly vegetarian and they may want to have a match who is vegetarian in their diet, things like that. So I put everything on the database and I send that information regularly to the members of that group and they can come back to me and say, yes I'm interested in A, B, C or... whoever. The bride and the groom, I provide them with each other's contacts and then they talk it out amongst themselves. My interaction stops there, in a way, and both families start talking."

Dipak Mankodi says the matchmaking approach favoured by Indians is very different to a Western model that tends to focus on the needs of the individual.

He says in the Indian community, compatibility between families is also extremely important.

"The Indians believe in traditional matrimonial connection, which has been successful when compared with all due respect to the Western style of dating to relationships. Parents and family members are also equally involved in the whole exercise. This is a life-changing situation in their children's family, and that will also ultimately involved the whole family. So it's not just the bride or the groom or the boy or the girl that we are talking about here. So the Indian family they do take a serious interest to make sure that the whole thing works out in the best possible match and that it's all hunky dory (good) at the end of the day."

In the gay online dating world, a preference for a partner of a particular race or ethnicity is openly discussed.

But in the gay community, it seems it's often more a case of preference for particular physical characteristics, rather than maintaining cultural continuity.

Senthorun Raj is a researcher at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Law.

He's written a paper on the representation of race and ethnicity in gay matchmaking services such as Grindr and Manhunt.

Mr Raj says certain ethnicities tend to be either openly fetishised, or the reverse - reviled - leading to stereotypes about men from certain ethnic groups.

"One of the interesting things about looking at the way race is talked about or ethnicity is talked about is that it's invoked through those stereotypes, this idea for example that gay Asian men for example are effeminate or they assume more submissive roles in relationships. Or alternatively you have Middle Eastern men, or black men that are presented as hyper-masculine or very sexual, these sort of stereotypes are normalised in people's everyday lives to the extent of which people don't even realise necessarily what they're saying is based on a stereotype and hence this language of well, this is what I'm attracted to, these are my preferences."

Mr Raj says this can have the effect of isolating same-sex attracted men from particular backgrounds.

"If you're a same sex attracted Asian guy on Grindr or Manhunt or Gaydar for example and all these profiles say no Asians or only blah, blah, blah... it becomes quite an exclusive space. You don't really feel like you have a opportunity to talk to many people but what's interesting is that people think it's quite acceptable to say these sorts of things on these sites but would never say those same comments at a club for example."

Back in the mainstream dating world, the academics Genevieve Heard and Lyndon Walker have also observed other trends about ethnic intermarriage.

They say they've found some distinct gender differences in cases of intermarriage involving certain ethnic groups.

For example, it's common for women from Thailand, Japan and the Philippines to marry Australian-born men - but the same isn't true of men from the same communities finding Australian-born partners.

LISTEN: A look at ethnic dating in Australia

Source SBS

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