National Study on Ethnic Discrimination in the Housing Market

Today I’m giving you the first national field experiment on ethnic discrimination in the housing market. Financed by the Swiss Office for Housing and the NCCR on the move, we examined to what extent one’s name affects the likelihood to be invited to view an apartment. We covered the entire country, across language regions and across urban and rural areas.

Between March and October 2018, our diligent research assistants sent more than 11,000 enquiries to over 5,700 landlords in all parts of Switzerland. We varied the name of the person sending an enquiry (stimulus sampling) along with other features such as politeness or the family situation. Overall over 70% of the enquiries were answered positively in the sense of an invitation to view the apartment or steps in this direction.

We find no clear differences between commercial and private landlords. The response rate for women was around 1 percent higher, while highly qualified people had a 2 percent higher response rate, especially academics who use their doctoral title (we dind’t expect this to make such a big difference when we designed the study). As previous field experiments have shown, the quality of the message we sent affected the probability of a response: Compared to a standard text, the response rate for friendlier queries is about 5 percent higher, while queries with the default text from online portals show a 10 percent lower response rate.

We find evidence of ethnic discrimination in the sense of unequal treatment based on the name. Enquiries with names from neighbouring countries (Germany, Italy, France) were even invited somewhat more frequently to view apartments than those from Switzerland, but people with Kosovar (response rate just under 3 percent lower) or Turkish names (response rate about 5 percent lower) have significantly fewer chances of being invited for a viewing. Whether those interested were naturalised with foreign-sounding names or stated that they had a permanent residence permit was hardly a factor. The rate of discrimination we observe is similar in order of magnitude to that found in comparable studies in other Western countries.

With the national coverage, we can also observe variation in responses by local context where the property is located. In municipalities with higher rental prices, the positive response rate is higher for everyone, and a higher vacancy rate in the municipality is associated with a higher response rate, except for people with Kosovar names. In urban areas the probability of discriminating against people with foreign names is lower. We also find that people with foreign-sounding names are less likely to be invited in municipalities with restrictive political attitudes towards immigration (as measured in the results of popular initiatives and referendums).

Auer, Daniel, Julie Lacroix, Didier Ruedin, and Eva Zschirnt. 2019. ‘Ethnische Diskriminierung auf dem Schweizer Wohnungsmarkt’. Grenchen: BWO. https://www.bwo.admin.ch/bwo/de/home/Wohnungsmarkt/studien-und-publikationen/diskriminierung-auf-der-schweizer-wohnungsmarkt.html.

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