Yesha Callahan

Study Finds Airbnb Hosts Discriminate Against Renters With Black-Sounding Names

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Airbnb has revolutionized the way people travel, but for Black travelers looking for a place to stay, renting a room can be harder than just logging onto the website.

Last July, researchers at Harvard sent out requests to about 6,400 Airbnb hosts in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington. Some used “ethnic” names like Tanisha and Darnell to try to book a room, while others used names like Allison and Brad. What they found was troubling, but not new.

According to a paper on the subject, Airbnb hosts regularly engaged in “widespread discrimination” against room-seekers with Black-sounding names.

In fact, folks with Black-sounding names were 16 percent less likely to secure a room than folks with “white” names. Even more troubling was that the discrimination was persistent, no matter the race and gender of the host.

On the whole, we find that results are remarkably persistent. Both African American and White hosts discriminate against African-American guests; both male and female hosts discriminate; both male and female African-American guests are discriminated against. Effects persist both for hosts that offer an entire property and for hosts who share the property with guests. Discrimination persists among experienced hosts, including those with multiple properties and those with many reviews. Discrimination persists and is of similar magnitude in high and low priced units, in diverse and homogeneous neighborhoods.

While the study’s findings can certainly be problematic for Airbnb, the company said it is committed to building “one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world.”

Still, the findings give many pause, especially as our society increasingly moves toward a “sharing economy.”

Online platforms such as Airbnb create new markets by eliminating search frictions, building trust, and facilitating transactions. 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.

Have you ever been discriminated against by an Airbnb host? 

  1. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    No, I’ve never been discriminated against by an Airbnb host, and thanks to this study, I never will be because I wouldn’t be involved with such an entity.

    What the name discrimination mindset proves to me is that people are stupid. There are White people with “ethnic” sounding names such as a White woman who used to take care of my mom. Her name was Chante (pron. Shawnte). There are Black people with “White” sounding names such as Rebecca, Allison, or Amy. .

    What’s more, are they afraid Black people are going to destroy their property and think that White people aren’t capable of such things?

    It just goes to prove that racism and discrimination, regardless of who does them, is based on ignorance and stupidity

  2. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    We have never used Airbnb but my husband had suggested it to some close friends a while back. Hopefully the wife booked because her name would “pass” and the husband’s may have been viewed as too ethnic even though they live in a home worth over 7 figures and travel a lot for business and pleasure. Just goes to show, no matter how far we may think we get/are from the welfare, angry, uncooperative, or any other negative black stereotypes we are always somehow considered this, even by our own.

  3. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    I have never been to Airbnb before. Name discrimination is one of the most evil, pernicious, and illogical forms of discrimination in the world. To judge someone’s character automatically based on someone’s name is highly disrespectful and plain ignorant. If anyone, regardless of skin color, uses name discrimination then that person is wrong and that person should feel shame. I love names like Ashanti, Imani, Monifah, etc. Many of those names have a direct origin from Africa and many of those names were given by many black people as a way for them to identify with their black African heritage culturally. The battle continues, but we have faith and we believe in action. A’int nothing will turn us around. We are dedicated to believe in the truth that discrimination must be abolished and that black travelers should be respected and given all of the courtesy in the world when they travel from place to place.

  4. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    I’ve used Airbn once on a trip to the Pocono mountains a couple yrs ago.
    after reading this article, I won’t be doing any business with them in the future.
    I think it is absolutely stupid for a company to turn down profit via discrimination.
    The owners are not business savvy at all.

    • December 15, 2015 - Reply

      @Chazz A

      Chazz, it is stupid, but so are racists. There is no logic in their little pea brains.

    • December 16, 2015 - Reply

      @Chazz A

      The thing is…it’s not Airbnb’s fault. It’s the people using Airbnb. It’s just like Facebook…there are racists who will post what they post, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the CEOs and owner of Facebook are racist (although they could be).
      The same can be applied in this situation…you just have to be simply cautious about who you book with and see who has posted reviews for them (do they include no black people – this could be due to discrimination or to the fact that black people are simply not interested in staying at their property.

      • December 16, 2015 - Reply

        @cabugs

        I understand your point. My experience with the host was good and the property exceeded my expectations. I even recommended family members who also had positive experiences. If there were a few hosts involved in discrimination, it would be considered isolated. The article suggests widespread acts of discrimination and IMO Airbnb has to take some degree of responsibility. If the host that own’s the property consistently engages in discrimination, then he/she is not demonstrating good business ethics towards potential guests or Airbnb, especially if the company is “committed to building “one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world”, as the representative stated in the article.

  5. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    Did I misread? why are people saying they will never patronize airbnb because of this? It said the host discriminate. Airbnb isnt the host, its the platform used for hosts. How does airbnb know if someone is discriminating based on names?

    • December 15, 2015 - Reply

      @K_

      The same way the taxi commission knows about racist drivers. It’s the company’s job to suss them out before they get lapped by better service providers like Uber.

      • December 15, 2015 - Reply

        @Me

        how would airbnb go about sussing out that someone is going to discriminate based on names? thats not snark either serious question bc i cant conceive how that would be possible

        • December 15, 2015 - Reply

          @K_

          No one can determine what someone WILL do, but AirBnB can put penalties or fines in place to deter bad behavior and encourage agency for renters. They can also run their own analytics to identify offenders as a part of quality control just like when undercover taxi commission workers go in the field to test their drivers.

          • December 16, 2015 - Reply

            @Me

            Honestly, I agree with K_. Some commenters on here are really reaching. This is one of those things where even if they put analytics in place to collect data on interactions with black guests and different hosts, there is no way they would be able to prove that the hosts rejecting black guests is due to racism and not necessarily other factors. Unless there is a specific host who consistently rejects black guests then you can clearly see the correlation. But if it is more spread out among several hosts rejecting individual black guests at a point in time, you will not be able to single out any one individual host and say that racism is exactly the reason why the guest was rejected.
            Now, I do not want to be misconstrued. I am in no way excusing the poor actions of racists, however, I am also really baffled as to why everyone is immediately pointing the finger at Airbnb. The fact is when you have a social platform like this, whether its the sharing economy or social media, it can be extremely difficult to police the actions of everyone on your site. You can collect all the data you want, but correlation does not equal causation and although it is quite blatant, it is still not that blatant. And honestly, if I owned such a company, I also would not go willy nilly putting sanctions on my users and/or accusing them of discrimination when I do not have a 100% solid basis. You will chase out the incredible users who honestly have done nothing wrong along with the cretin.

            • December 16, 2015 - Reply

              @cabugs

              That’s a cop out. It should be every company’s priority to ensure all of their customers receive fair treatment and boycotting AirBnB sends a very clear message that they better figure out how to get ahead of this before users start making a serious dent in their profits. Renters shouldn’t be given the “oh well” treatment when a problem like this surfaces. If “good” hosts feel bad about getting penalized then they should stand up for renters and help suss out the bad apples. Accountability rests in the company’s hands.

  6. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    For a airbnb profile you have a pic anyway. So they can simply discriminate from a pic. I like the company. Can we not jump on them pls?

  7. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    There are white people with unusual names someone should sue these fools.

  8. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    I never heard of this company why doesn’t the mainstream media report this?

  9. December 15, 2015 - Reply

    I’ve never heard of this company before I wouldn’t consider patronizing them.

  10. December 16, 2015 - Reply

    I don’t care I am not surprised about this at all, I would be surprise if it was different [fair], it’s their right to be able to pick and choose who they want to live in their property just like I prize the right to pick and choose who I want to rent my house out too, the good thing about Airbrb is if they get more popular the rates of good hotels will drop and service will be increased and that’s where I prefer to stay when I travel anyway.

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