A working Harvard Business School study shows that people with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16 per cent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.
The study, titled Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment, surveyed 6,400 Airbnb listings in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. using 20 guest accounts.
The Harvard Business School researchers created profiles that were identical other than the names used. The research found that guests with ‘White sounding names’ are accepted roughly 50 per cent of the time. In contrast, guests with ‘African American-sounding names’ are accepted roughly 42 per cent of the time. Relative to the 50 per cent base response rate, the eight percentage point difference represents a 16 per cent reduction in the acceptance rate for African-American guests.
The sharing economy platforms, like Airbnb and Uber, requires more detailed profiles of hosts and less anonymity for their users. The report claims this transparency can cause both conscious and unconscious bias that muddies the waters of its optimistic business proposition
“With the rise of the sharing economy, however, comes a level of racial discrimination that is unheard of in a hotel. Clearly, the manager of a Holiday Inn cannot examine names of potential guests and reject them based on race. Yet, this is commonplace on Airbnb, which now accounts for a growing share of the hotel market. In this section, we discuss implications for market designers and policy-makers.”
The study suggests that Airbnb could reduce discrimination by concealing gusts name, just as it prevents transmission of email addresses and phone numbers so that guests and hosts cannot circumvent Airbnb’s platform and its fees.
In a press statement to The New York Times Airbnb responded to the study: “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.“
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