Last week, the Pew Research Center released new data indicating that fewer Americans are married than ever before.
Gene Demby, writing on NPR’s CodeSwitch blog, points out that the figures are even starker within the black community. More than a third of black people older than 25 have never been married, even though they say they would like to be. Black professional women, in particular, struggle to marry, continuing a trend that has been true for years: Back in 2009, ABC News reported that 70% of black professional women were unmarried.
Could technology help to improve the marriage prospects for black professionals? Raissa Tona and Wale Ayeni, recent graduates of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, believe so. They’ve just created a location-based app called MELD, available on iTunes and Google Play, that caters to college-educated black singles.
“On all the major dating sites–OKCupid, Match.com, and eHarmony–it’s the same story: Black people–including professionals–have the lowest response rate out of any group,” Tona tells me. “They spend the most time reaching out and expressing interest, but do not hear back from the people on the other end.”
Race plays a significant role in a person’s success on an online dating site, as data repeatedly shows. When OKCupid analyzed its own data, it found that black men and women get fewer responses than their counterparts from other ethnic groups. This is consistent across platforms. Last year, data from Facebook’s dating app, Are You Interested, showed exactly the same result: The odds on online dating sites are consistently stacked against black users.
Several sites have sprung up to cater specifically to the black community, including Black People Meet, Black Planet, and Black Singles. But Tona and Ayeni believe that these sites are not meeting the needs of educated and high-earning black professionals. “The reason that we believe we’re creating something that is unique and differentiated is that MELD is a curated list of educated black professionals,” says Ayeni.
Tona and Ayeni say that unlike the OkCupids of the Internet, their business model focuses on a highly specialized demographic. They compare themselves to other niche sites like Farmers Only or JDate. “We believe that the black professionals have been underserved and people from this community will be willing to give our platform a chance,” says Tona. “We’ve been getting emails from people saying thank you for creating something they’ve been wanting to see for a long time.”
They chose to make the platform mobile-only in order to better target this demographic. “Black professionals spend the majority of their time on their smartphones,” says Ayeni. The app also relies on geolocation so that users can filter how far away potential matches will be. This means that single black professionals could potentially meet people while on business trips, since many target users spend a lot of time traveling for work. That said, they are trying hard not to frame it as a hookup app, along the lines of Tinder. The MELD interface allows users to spend more time creating detailed profiles, rather than relying primarily on pictures.
But more than just creating a dating app, Tona and Ayeni are trying to help to change the way that black people are perceived in society. “Up until Scandal, there were not many strong black females portrayed on television,” says Tona. “There are still cultural issues that are contributing to black women and black people in general struggling to get married. We’re creating a place for these people to find each other and bond over shared life goals.”