Nav: Home

Study: More customer information can help Airbnb address discrimination

March 01, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Recent studies of peer-to-peer businesses such as Airbnb, Uber and Lyft have revealed racial discrimination among hosts and drivers, thus threatening the basis for the sharing economy that aims to create commerce through a sense of community.

New research by an Indiana University Kelley School of Business professor suggests that companies in the sharing economy can eliminate discrimination by encouraging clients to write reviews and by designing better ways to share information that signals guest quality.

Ruomeng Cui, an assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at Kelley, and colleagues at the University of Michigan and Washington University of St. Louis, first set out to replicate the previous findings of discrimination.

Their paper, "Discrimination with Incomplete Information in the Sharing Economy: Field Evidence from Airbnb," is the focus of a Feb. 27 article in Harvard Business Review. While the study focused on Airbnb, Cui said the findings apply to other firms in the sharing economy, such as Uber and Lyft, which produces ratings for drivers and riders.

The researchers conducted two random field experiments among 1,256 Airbnb hosts by creating fictional guest accounts and sending requests for accommodations in Boston, Chicago and Seattle. One group of guests had distinctly white-sounding names, and the others had names that suggested the guests were African-Americans.

Cui and her colleagues found that requests from guests with distinctly African-American names were nearly 20 percent less often accepted than requests from guests with white names. The average acceptance rate of white guests was 48 percent, compared with 29 percent among African Americans.

But after one positive review was added for the fictional guests, the results were statistically indistinguishable -- 56 percent acceptance for white guests and 58 percent for African-American guests.

Even one negative review eliminated discrimination, as the acceptance rate was 58.2 percent for whites and 57.4 percent for African-Americans.

"Depending on what drives discrimination, the approaches to combating discrimination can be drastically different," Cui and her co-authors wrote in Harvard Business Review. "On one hand, if discrimination is largely a result of incomplete information, providing more relevant information will reduce people's reliance on race as a signal.

"On the other hand, if discrimination is driven by intrinsic aversion to people of color, simply providing information is not sufficient, and more systematic interventions will be needed."

When hosts in the study had additional information about potential guests, they often placed less weight on race as a determining factor and discrimination was eliminated. Gender was not a factor in the study.

In 2015, researchers at Harvard University were the first to report difficulties that Airbnb clients with African-American-sounding names had when booking accommodations through the site. In September, the company announced efforts to prevent discrimination and said it welcomed "any solutions to help us reduce discrimination on our platform."

Cui and her colleagues, Jun Li of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and Dennis Zhang at the Olin School at Washington University, suggest that Airbnb could offer monetary and other incentives for hosts to write more reviews.

They also recommend that it change its mechanism to increase the success rate of matching for new customers. New customers were more likely to be discriminated against because their profiles lacked information.

Their recommendations differ from previous studies that have proposed concealing guests' information.

"Anonymity endangers the basis of the sharing economy, trust, which allows users to accept a ride from a stranger or share a residence with a host they have never met," their working paper said.

"More importantly, our findings indicate that obscuring guest information, such as shrinking guests' photos, might result in even more severe discrimination, because hosts without credible information will inevitably infer guest quality from the readily available information, like race."
Editors: Media wishing to request a copy of the paper should contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or

Indiana University

Related Discrimination Articles:

When kids face discrimination, their mothers' health may suffer
A new study is the first to suggest that children's exposure to discrimination can harm their mothers' health.
Racial discrimination in mortgage market persistent over last four decades
A new Northwestern University analysis finds that racial disparities in the mortgage market suggest that discrimination in loan denial and cost has not declined much over the previous 30 to 40 years, yet discrimination in the housing market has decreased during the same time period.
Successful alcohol, drug recovery hampered by discrimination
Even after resolving a problem with alcohol and other drugs, adults in recovery report experiencing both minor or 'micro' forms of discrimination such as personal slights, and major or 'macro' discrimination such as violation of their personal rights.
Sexual minorities continue to face discrimination, despite increasing support
Despite increasing support for the rights of people in the LGBTQ+ community, discrimination remains a critical and ongoing issue for this population, according to researchers.
Fathers may protect their LGB kids from health effects of discrimination
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who report being discriminated against but who feel close to their fathers have lower levels of C-reactive protein -- a measure of inflammation and cardiovascular risk -- than those without support from their fathers, finds a new study from researchers at NYU College of Global Public Health.
Uncovering the roots of discrimination toward immigrants
Immigrants are often encouraged to assimilate into their new culture as a way of reducing conflict with their host societies, to appear less threatening to the culture and national identity of the host population.
Using artificial intelligence to detect discrimination
A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool for detecting unfair discrimination -- such as on the basis of race or gender -- has been created by researchers at Penn State and Columbia University.
Evidence of hiring discrimination against nonwhite groups in 9 countries examined
A new meta-analysis on hiring discrimination by Northwestern University sociologist Lincoln Quillian and his colleagues finds evidence of pervasive hiring discrimination against all nonwhite groups in all nine countries they examined.
Perceived discrimination associated with well-being in adults with poor vision
This study of nearly 7,700 men and women 50 or older in England looked at how common perceived discrimination was among those with visual impairment and how that was associated with emotional well-being.
Discrimination against older people needs attention, study says
Ever cracked a joke about old people? It might seem funny, but in a world where the population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all younger age groups, ageism is no laughing matter, says a University of Alberta researcher.
More Discrimination News and Discrimination Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

There's so much we've yet to explore–from outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 1: Numbers
In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide.  Support Radiolab today at