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Study: Older women win in the sharing economy because people trust their ads

Most Airbnb hosts do not know this.

Study: Older women win in the sharing economy because people trust their ads
[Photo: Aaron Sebastian/Unsplash]

Aging while female pays dividends in at least one marketplace: the online sharing economy. An Airbnb photo of an older, smiling female host will attract more guests than any other demographic, according to new research out of Hebrew University with big implications for profile photos on platforms ranging from Uber to eBay.

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Researchers tracked 320 Airbnb ads, and found that when users perceive host photos to be “trustworthy,” their listing prices are higher, and generate much more business. Customers perceive “trustworthiness” based on these characteristics, in the following descending pecking order:

  • Women are considered more trustworthy than men
  • Older hosts are trusted more than younger ones
  • Smiling faces are perceived as more trustworthy neutral expressions
  • Attractive hosts are considered more trustworthy unattractive ones

Customers also prefer photos that show the host interacting with others, because it signals positive social relationships–i.e., that someone else also trusts the lister.

How important are the photos? They’re everything, much more important than online ratings and reviews. “We find that a host’s reputation, communicated by her online review scores, has no effect on listing price or likelihood of customer booking,” write the authors.

The researchers note that Airbnb hosts seem unaware of these details. Though two-thirds of them post smiling photos, many listings by male-female couples feature photos of just the man—when photos of the woman would likely attract more guests.

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