Racism among Airbnb Users


This past spring break, I had my first Airbnb experience. My younger daughter and I stayed in a lovely place in Alpine, TX, as we visited Marfa, Big Bend, and the surrounding sites. 

For those who are not familiar with Airbnb, here is a quick lowdown. Suppose you wanted to rent your home for a weekend. You could list it on the site, with pictures, a description, and the price per night. Potential guests then express interest by noting their desired dates of staying, and even sharing a bit about themselves.

Unlike a hotel, though, you get to choose whether to rent to the guest. You can evaluate the guest, ratings of the guest from other Airbnb users, and, especially relevant to this conversation, the guest’s demographic information. 

It is the latter portion where bias occurs, or so suggests a recent analysis from Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford.

She found that Blacks were 16 percent less likely than Whites to be accepted as an Airbnb guest. These differences remainded even after considering various personal factors that might influence the choice. The findings were consistent across cities, types of neighborhoods, and both low-end and high-end properties.  

Airbnb then conducted its own analysis and found the same pattern of results. The company has tried several tactics to overcome these troubling patterns, but they were met with varying success.

One approach that early success is highlighting guest reviews for the potential renters. The thinking is that focusing on the reviews, rather than the renter’s race, will help offset the biased decisions. Early results show that this approach is helpful, but only time will tell. 

The company also has a space for renters to lodge discrimination complaints, as well as a program that promises to find a suitable space for anyone who is denied a rental because of discrimination.