New study indicates African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted on Airbnb than identical guests with distinctively White names

Dec 10, 2015, 11:17 PM

Of all the incremental innovations that have made companies like Airbnb and Uber work, paramount is the picture. Seeing a photo of the person you’re renting a room from or hopping into a car with creates at bare minimum the illusion of trust.

But on Airbnb, at least, it may also engender racism, according to a new study out of Harvard Business School.

The researchers created 20 identical Airbnb profiles with 20 different names, 10 of which would lead you to believe the person was white, and 10 of which would suggest the person was black.

They then tried booking thousands of Airbnb rentals in Baltimore, Dallas, LA, St. Louis and D.C.

They found that “requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.”

The study was a follow-up to a study out of Harvard Business School last year that found that black hosts, in general, make significantly less on the site.

In that study, researchers found that if you have two comparable listings, the one owned by a non-black host will cost on average 12 percent more.

A limitation of the current investigation of how hard it might be for people to book a rental depending on their race is that the researchers did not put photos on their 20 different accounts. They only suggested race using people’s names. “To avoid the confounds that would result from pictures, we use only names,” wrote study authors Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca and Dan Svirsky.

But even with sketchy photo-less accounts, it was easier for white people to book an Airbnb rental. Hosts, interestingly, discriminate equally, regardless of their own race or gender.

It also didn’t matter whether the property for rent was an entire home, or one that guests would share with their host.