Report: Harvard professor experiment suggests Airbnb African-American bias

Do some Airbnb hosts discriminate against African-Americans? A recently released working paper titled “Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment,” written by three Harvard Business School professors, seems to suggest this, Road Warrior Voices reported.

Road Warrior Voices outlined the experiment: 20 fake Airbnb profiles were created with the aim to book lodging. Ten names were stereotypically white (Allison, Brett) while the other 10 were stereotypically black (Lakisha, Jermaine). Each conveyed race was divided into five males and five females.

These 20 researchers-in-disguise sent out more than 6,400 lodging queries to Airbnb hosts in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Washington, DC.

Road Warrior Voices pointed out some of the study’s most revealing findings:

The researchers found white guests received 50 percent positive responses to these queries while African-American guests got just 42 percent.

Also, the African-American male and female with the most positive individual responses for their race were still outnumbered by the white male and female with the least positive individual responses for their race.

According to the authors of the study, “The difference persists whether the host is African American or White, male or female. The difference also persists whether the host shares the property with the guest or not, and whether the property is cheap or expensive.”

The authors assert that such bias just isn’t good for business. “Discrimination is costly for hosts who indulge in it: hosts who reject African-American guests are able to find a replacement guest only 35 percent of the time.”

The paper’s lead author Ben Edelman told Bloomberg Business:

“Life is tough if you’re a black guest on Airbnb. Particularly when you compare it to the baseline of the way things used to be.” Edelman concluded, “If you’re a black guest, you just make a reservation at the Marriott.”

Road Warrior Voices mentions that this isn’t the first time Edelman and his fellow professors have accused Airbnb of racial bias. Edelman co-wrote a paper alleging that African-American hosts charged 12 percent less for their listings than non-black hosts, because they have a more difficult time getting guests.

Airbnb does have an anti-discrimination policy on its website, but instead of just offering a set of rules, Edelman asserted that Airbnb should also anonymize the profiles, a la eBay or Etsy, Road Warrior Voices cited from the paper. “While information can facilitate transactions, it also facilitates discrimination” Edelman wrote.

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