The Review of Black Political Economy

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 129–138 | Cite as

India’s Color Complex: One Day’s Worth of Matrimonials

  • T. Jerome UtleyJr.
  • William DarityJr.Email author


Lighter skin complexions may function as a form of capital, particularly for women, in marriage markets. The existence of a preference for light skin for marital partners is an index of the presence of colorism or color bias in a given society. This paper reports on a detailed examination of marital advertisements that appeared in India’s Sunday Times on a single day in March 2013. It asks how often skin shade is mentioned in the advertisements placed among those seeking grooms and those seeking brides, how those mentions are distributed by the reported age of the prospective marital partner, and the type of language used to describe the individual’s complexion. The study finds that skin shade is described far more often in advertisements placed by prospective brides or their families than prospective grooms or their families, and, whenever complexion is mentioned, the possession of lighter skin shades.


Stratification economics Skin shade Colorism Racism Marriage markets Marital advertisements Gender Gender bias Patriarchy 


  1. Burton LM, Bonilla-Silva E, Ray V, Buckelew R, Freeman EH. Critical race theories, colorism, and the decade’s research on families of color. J Marriage. 2010;72:440–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cox OC. Caste, class, & race. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.; 1948.Google Scholar
  3. Glenn EN. Yearning for lightness: transnational circuits in the marketing and consumption of skin lighteners. Gend Soc. 2008;22(3):281–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Hamilton D, Goldsmith A, Darity Jr W. Shedding ‘light’ on marriage: the influence of skin shade on marriage for black females. J Econ Behav Organ. 2009;72:30–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Harris AP. From color line to color chart? racism and colorism in the new century. Berkeley J Afr Am Law Policy. 2008;10:52–69.Google Scholar
  6. Hunter M. Buying racial capital: skin bleaching and cosmetic surgery in a globalized world. Journal of Pan African Studies. 2011;4(4):142–64.Google Scholar
  7. Hunter ML. If you’re light you’re alright: skin color as social capital for women of color. Gend Soc. 2002;16(2):175–93.Google Scholar
  8. Hunter ML. The consequences of colorism. In: The melanin millennium. Netherlands: Springer; 2013. p. 247–256.Google Scholar
  9. Jha S, Adelman M. Looking for love in all the white places: a study of skin color preferences on Indian matrimonial and mate-seeking websites. Stud South Asian Film and Media. 2009;1(1):65–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Khan A. Caucasian, coolie, black or white? Color and race in the Indo-Caribbean diaspora. In: Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press; 2009. p. 95–113.Google Scholar
  11. Maddox KB. Perspectives of racial phenotypicality bias. Personal Soc Psychol Rev. 2004;8(4):383–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Marira TD, Mitra P. Colorism: ubiquitous yet understudied. Ind Organ Psychol. 2013;6(1):103–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ramasubramanian S, Jain P. Gender stereotypes and normative heterosexuality in matrimonial ads from globalizing India. Asian J Commun. 2008;19(3):253–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Russell-Colle K, Wilson M, Hall RE. The color complex. New York: Random House, Inc.; 2013.Google Scholar
  15. Shrestha S. Threatening consumption: managing US imperial anxieties in representations of skin lightening in India. Soc Identities. 2013;19(1):104–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Stone L, James C. Dowry, bride-burning, and female power in India. Women’s Stud Int Forum. 1995;18(2):125–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Vaid J. Fair enough? Color and the commodification of self in Indian matrimonials. In: Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press; 2009. p. 95–113.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations