A new study from two professors at Harvard Business School finds that black hosts on Airbnb make less than their non-black counterparts on the popular vacation rental website. Black people receive an average rate of $107, versus a rate of $144 for non-black hosts.
The authors of the study, Benjamin Edelman and Michael Luca, acknowledged that many of the properties rented out by black hosts tend to be inferior to other properties, but they wrote that this does not fully account for the discrepancies. "Black hosts’ properties tend to be located in inferior locations, and have properties that look worse (based on listing photos)," the authors wrote. "We do not believe this mechanism drives our results."
The researchers found that even when holding location, rental characteristics, quality, ratings and photos were all similar, non-black hosts were able to charge 12 percent more than black hosts for a rental. The authors pointed out that even peer-to-peer businesses are not immune to discrimination: "These differences highlight the risk of discrimination in online marketplaces, suggesting an important unintended consequence of a seemingly-routine mechanism for building trust." The authors of the study also stated that black hosts with properties in undesirable locations suffered from a greater price penalty than their non-black peers. The researchers conducted the study by looking at all landlords listed in New York City on Airbnb.
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Airbnb hit back at the study, telling Recode: “We are committed to making Airbnb the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent community in the world and our Terms of Service prohibit content that discriminates. The data in this report is nearly two years old and is from only one of the more than 35,000 cities where Airbnb hosts welcome guests into their homes. Additionally, the authors made a number of subjective or inaccurate determinations when compiling their findings.”
Edelman admitted to Recode that the study was imperfect, but that he and Luca still had "the same information available to us as potential guests.”
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