Study: ‘African-American Names’ 16% Less Likely to Be Approved for Airbnb Rentals

WASHINGTON — What’s in a name?

That’s a loaded question, according to a new study that finds Airbnb guests with distinctively African-American names receive less positive responses from property owners than guests with distinctively white names.

The data was collected on 6,400 properties offered for rent via Airbnb in July 2015 in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis and D.C., by Harvard Business School faculty members Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca and Dan Svirsky.

White female names included in the experiment included “Allison Sullivan” and “Meredith O’Brien,” while black female names included “Lakisha Jones” and “Tamika Williams.”

Some of the white male names used were “Brett Baker” and “Todd McCarthy,” while the list of black male names included “Rasheed Jackson” and “Tyrone Robinson.”

The names were drawn from a similar study entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” which was published in the American Economic Review in 2004.

The researchers created 20 Airbnb accounts — five each representing white males, black males, white females and black females, which were identical in all respects except for the guest’s name — and started sending messages to Airbnb hosts about property availability.

“Because some hosts offer multiple properties, we selected only one property per host using a random number generator,” the study says.

“This helped to reduce the burden on any given host, and it also prevented a single host from receiving multiple identical emails. Each host was contacted for no more than one transaction in our experiment.”

They found that inquiries from guests with white-sounding names were accepted roughly 50 percent of the time, while guests with African-American-sounding names were accepted roughly 42 percent of the time.

“Relative to the 50 percent base response rate, the eight percentage point difference represents a 16 percent reduction in the acceptance rate for African-American guests.”

And furthermore, discrimination continues to occur regardless of the race and age of the host, the cost and location of the property and whether or not the property was set up so that the host and the guest would be co-habitating during the rental period.

One factor that lessened the racial discrimination gap was whether or not the host had previously rented to an African-American guest.

“For this analysis, we collected the profile picture from the ten most recent reviews from past guests of each of the hosts we had contacted. We then categorized these past guests by race and gender. Among hosts who have at least one review from an African-American guest, discrimination was reduced by six percentage points, removing most of the gap that we found for other hosts.”

Read the full study HERE.

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