Study Spotlights Racist Tendencies In Airbnb Hosts


A study revealed that Airbnb hosts have a higher tendency to turn down requests from guests with African-American-sounding names as opposed to White-American-sounding names, proving that there is a case of racial prejudice occurring within the platform.

The working paper titled "Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment" focuses on the consequences of reducing user anonymity in online transactions concerning accommodations. It was written by Harvard Business School's Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca and Dan Svirsky. They are the same authors who, in 2014, discovered that there is an existing racial prejudice against hosts.

To facilitate the experiment, 20 identical Airbnb accounts were created in which the only difference were names. The 20 accounts were divided to reflect 10 distinct African-American sounding names and 10 distinct White names and further sub-divided to reflect five males and five females. They also sent around 6,400 messages to hosts in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., limiting the inquiry to one property if the host had multiple offered properties.

The results were foreseen, but the complete picture was not what they expected.

"Overall, our results suggest that discrimination is not limited to one type of host or one particular situation. The effect is stable, and it persists across hosts of diverse races, ages, and levels of experience," they wrote.

To put it simply, the resulting data which showed that "guests" with African-American sounding names received 16 percent less positive responses than "guests" with white-sounding names. By comparing the number of positive responses received, both male and female African-American-sounding names, were still fewer than the number of positive responses received by the White-sounding names with the least number of positive responses.

"We recognize that bias and discrimination are significant challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work with anyone that can help us reduce potential discrimination in the Airbnb community," Airbnb said in a statement. They also said that they are communicating with the authors of the study in order to find a way to fix the problem.

Photo: Airbnb | Flickr

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