Airbnb Hosts Discriminate Against Blacks, Study Finds

Photo (cc) by Sean MacEntee

A Harvard Business School study has found “widespread discrimination against African-American guests” on Airbnb.

Guests with “distinctively African-American names” are roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than guests who have identical profiles but “distinctively white names,” according to the study.

Airbnb is an online marketplace that facilitates short-term rentals by connecting potential guests with potential hosts. Many of these hosts are homeowners seeking to rent out their home or a room.

The study describes Airbnb as “the canonical example of the sharing economy.”

Unlike when booking a hotel room on a hotel’s website or third-party website like Expedia, however, guests click on a “Request to Book” button and hosts choose whether to accept the guest.

The study states:

“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.”

For the study, the researchers conducted a field experiment that involved creating guest accounts that differ only by name and then inquiring about the availability of roughly 6,400 Airbnb listings in five cities: Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

The study also found that discrimination by hosts affects the hosts’ bottom line. Those who reject African-American guests are able to find a replacement guest only 35 percent of the time.

Airbnb said in a statement to various media outlets that the company is in touch with the study authors:

“We are committed to making Airbnb one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world. 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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