Airbnb Hosts Discriminate Against Black Renters, Study Finds

Airbnb hosts were less inclined to book renters with stereotypically African-American names, Harvard Business School researchers found.

Airbnb Hosts Discriminate Against Black Renters, Study Finds
[Photo: Flickr user Håkan Dahlström]

A new study from Harvard Business School finds that Airbnb hosts are more likely to book reservations with users who have “distinctly white” names, according to Bloomberg. Researchers discovered that renters who had stereotypically African-American names were less likely to score bookings on the platform.


The study involved the researchers sending 6,400 messages, using fake profiles that were identical with the exception of the name. (None of those profiles included photos.) They tried to book reservations in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. Hosts said “yes” to the request 50% of the time when the profile had a white-sounding name (two examples from the study were “Allison Sullivan” and “Greg O’Brien”). But hosts only agreed to a reservation 42% of the time if the name was stereotypically African-American–say, “Rasheed Jackson” or “Latoya Williams,” two names that were used in the study.

“Life is tough if you’re a black guest on Airbnb,” Ben Edelman, one of the study’s authors, told Bloomberg. “Particularly when you compare it to the baseline of the way things used to be. If you’re a black guest, you just make a reservation at the Marriott.”

While Airbnb claimed, in a statement to Bloomberg, that it has “a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination,” it’s difficult to regulate this type of bias, especially given that hosts can decline a guest for a battery of reasons. (The study’s authors claim that they controlled for factors like the host’s race, gender, and age–but they still found that the odds were stacked against profiles with African-American names.) Racism in this form is far more difficult for a company to detect and act on. One option would be for the company to allow users to adopt pseudonyms.

The Harvard study was penned by the same authors who previously looked into racial discrimination against hosts; they found that Airbnb hosts who were not black could charge guests an average of 12% more.

Update: In a statement, Airbnb told Fast Company it is in talks with the study’s 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. We are in touch with the authors of this study and we look forward to a continuing dialogue with them.

[via Bloomberg]

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.