Airbnb discriminates against blacks in the US (and in Sweden as well)


First a new paper to be published in the American Economic Journal:

Edelman et al, Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment 

PDF airbnb-guest-discrimination-2016-09-16

In an experiment on Airbnb, we find that applications from guests with distinctively African-American names are 16% less likely to be accepted relative to identical guests with distinctively White names. Discrimination occurs among landlords of all sizes, including small landlords sharing the property and larger landlords with multiple properties. It is most pronounced among hosts who have never had an African-American guest, suggesting only a subset of hosts discriminate. While rental markets have achieved significant reductions in discrimination in recent decades, our results suggest that Airbnb’s current design choices facilitate discrimination and raise the possibility of erasing some of these civil rights gains.

The same story is repeated in Sweden.

Swedish Radio:

Rental service Airbnb – which provides private rooms and apartments for guests all over the world – has problems with discrimination.

Tim Davis from New York tried to book an apartment through the service in Stockholm last summer, but was denied by the 15 hosts. He believes that it has something to do with that he is black. “I sent out 15 different requests and they all said no, but I also noted that the dates were still on the site”, said Tim Davis from New York.

After having contacted 15 hosts on Airbnb in Stockholm but had been rejected by everyone, Tim Davis, who himself is an Airbnb host in New York, started to suspect that the reason that all the hosts denied him to hire his skin color. “I’ve never been in Sweden, so I began to investigate. Is it okay to go there? Will there be problems? Will there be a big problem for me to be there as the black man?”

In the US, this issue has received much attention this year, partly due to a scientific study by Harvard University showed that it is easier to get rental accommodations through Airbnb, if you have a name that is common among white Americans than if you have a name that is common among African Americans.

But we wanted to know if this is also a problem in Sweden and made our own small survey where we borrowed several black and white people’s Airbnb accounts. With the help of the black persons’ accounts, we asked 200 Airbnb hosts in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö about their places were vacant on specific dates. More than half of the respondents said yes. But when we asked those who had said no again from an account that belongs to one of the white test subjects, nearly one in three hosts said instead that the apartment was vacant.

So here are what some of the hosts said when a black person asked:

“No sorry, friends are coming to visit”.

“Unfortunately, we will not be home on these dates”

“No, unfortunately,  the accommodation is not available, we had forgotten to change the dates. “

And this is how the hosts responded when we let a white person repeat the question:

“-You are more than welcome!”

“We will arrange that, what time are you coming on Friday?”

“Absolutely, it works well. Welcome!”

Process Manager Martin Dark at the Equality Ombudsman’s Office  said about the test: “It’s difficult to say something about the individual cases but as it looks there appears to be a problem. Typically, private behaviour is protected from discrimination legislation, but in this case when you have advertised on a commercial site with the purpose of making money, these people may be guilty of discrimination.”

– As anti-discrimination law stands today, it is values that are responsible for it. …….

……. Airbnb declined to participate in an interview …… but says that discrimination is unacceptable and that it will take action if guests report that they encountered discrimination.

Discriminate is what homo sapiens do. To discriminate is the automatic consequence of thought.

This kind of discrimination may be “deplorable” but I am not sure that forcing people – by legal coercion – to disregard or abandon their own values is not equally deplorable. You may not agree with someone’s values but to force them to adopt yours is either oppression of the individual or it is brainwashing.

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