Study Finds Racial Discrimination by Airbnb Hosts

Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg Business, December 10, 2015

The lack of anonymity on Airbnb may lead to persistent racial discrimination, a working paper from Harvard Business School found. Renters with names that sounded African American had a harder time booking reservations on the site than those who had white-sounding names, according to the study.

Researchers set up 6,400 fake profiles of Airbnb guests and assigned them stereotypically white or black names, based on Massachusetts birth certificate data from the 1970s. None of the guest profiles had identifying pictures. They used the accounts to request bookings with hosts in five cities: Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. Airbnb hosts decide whom they want to rent to; requests from white guests got “yes” responses 50 percent of the time, vs. 42 percent for black applicants. The researchers controlled for a variety of factors, such as the host’s gender and ratings, and the “race effect,” as the paper described it, persisted.

“Life is tough if you’re a black guest on Airbnb,” said Ben Edelman, an associate professor at HBS and one of the study’s authors. “Particularly when you compare it to the baseline of the way things used to be. If you’re a black guest, you just make a reservation at the Marriott.”

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The paper comes from the same researchers who in 2014 discovered racial discrimination against hosts. That study found nonblack renters could charge 12 percent more, on average, holding everything else constant. The differential in the new study is less stark, but still statistically significant, Edelman said. {snip}

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