Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2014

Digital Discrimination: The Case of Airbnb.com

by Benjamin G. Edelman and Michael Luca

Abstract

Online marketplaces often contain information not only about products, but also about the people selling the products. In an effort to facilitate trust, many platforms encourage sellers to provide personal profiles and even to post pictures of themselves. However, these features may also facilitate discrimination based on sellers' race, gender, age, or other aspects of appearance. In this paper, we test for racial discrimination against landlords in the online rental marketplace Airbnb.com. Using a new data set combining pictures of all New York City landlords on Airbnb with their rental prices and information about quality of the rentals, we show that non-black hosts charge approximately 12% more than black hosts for the equivalent rental. These effects are robust when controlling for all information visible in the Airbnb marketplace. These findings highlight the prevalence of discrimination in online marketplaces, suggesting an important unintended consequence of a seemingly-routine mechanism for building trust.

Keywords: Prejudice and Bias; Online Technology; Race Characteristics; Trust; Renting or Rental; Accommodations Industry; Real Estate Industry;

Citation:

Edelman, Benjamin G., and Michael Luca. "Digital Discrimination: The Case of Airbnb.com." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-054, January 2014.