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.

Ethnic discrimination in hiring: UK edition

The BBC report on a large correspondent test in the UK carried out by the excellent GEMM project. It’s good to see this reach a wider audience; it’s sad to see the results from our meta-analysis confirmed once again.

British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds have to send, on average, 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts

What I really like about this short report by the BBC is that the essentials are covered. Yes we see discrimination, but no, it’s not so bad that none of the minority applicants would ever succeed. They also start the piece with an example of someone changing their name on the CV as a strategy to counter expected (or experienced) discrimination — and they highlight that discrimination has not declined despite policy changes, and indeed that discrimination affects native citizens who happen to have a ‘foreign’ name: they pay for an action of their parents or grandparents.

Are employers in Britain discriminating against ethnic minorities?, GEMM project: PDF of report

Zschirnt, Eva, and Didier Ruedin. 2016. ‘Ethnic Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Correspondence Tests 1990–2015’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42 (7): 1115–34.

Hiring now: Postdoctoral Researcher (4 years, 70% FTE)

We’re now hiring a postdoctoral researcher (4 years, 70% FTE) for a project on overcoming inequalities and ethnic discrimination in the labour market. The project is jointly with Wassilis Kassis. You’ll be working at the University of Neuchâtel, and will be joined by a doctoral students by the end of the year. Full advert here:

This position is one of the many currently advertised at the NCCR on the move: — come and join us!

Discrimination not declining

A new meta-analysis draws on correspondence tests in the US to show that levels of ethnic discrimination in hiring do not seem to have changed much since 1989. This persistence in racial discrimination is bad news, and indeed Eva Zschirnt and I have shown the same result across OECD countries a year ago. While policies have changed, especially in the European Union, looking at the ‘average’ from correspondence tests suggests that they may not have been effective — and that is bad news.

Correspondence tests are widely accepted as a means to identify the existence of ethnic discrimination in the labour market, and as field experiments they are in a relatively good position to make the causal claims we typically want to make. It turns out that most correspondence tests have not paid sufficient attention to heterogeneity, which — as David Neumark and Judith Rich demonstrate — means that they likely over-estimate the degree of discrimination. Unfortunately, most old studies did not vary the groups in a way that this could be fixed post-hoc. If we throw these out of the meta-analysis, we probably no longer have sufficient studies to make claims about changes over time.

Meta-analyses are no doubt an important tool of science, but there’s always a delicate balance to be struck: are the experiments included really comparable? Here we’re looking at field experiments in different countries, different labour markets, different jobs, and different ethnic groups. We can control for these factors in the meta-analysis, but with the limited number of studies we have, this might not be sufficient to silence critics. With correspondence tests, we only cover entry-level jobs, and despite much more fine-graded studies going into the field recently, we don’t have a tool to really identify why discrimination takes place.

Neumark, David, and Judith Rich. 2016. ‘Do Field Experiments on Labor and Housing Markets Overstate Discrimination? Re-Examination of the Evidence’. NBER Working Papers w22278 (May).

Quillian, Lincoln, Devah Pager, Ole Hexel, and Arnfinn H. Midtbøen. 2017. ‘Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments Shows No Change in Racial Discrimination in Hiring over Time’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September, 201706255. doi:10.1073/pnas.1706255114.

Zschirnt, Eva, and Didier Ruedin. 2016. ‘Ethnic Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Correspondence Tests 1990–2015’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42 (7): 1115–34. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2015.1133279.

Image: CC-by CharlotWest


It’s nice to see IMISCOE keep growing (now 39 member institutes), with the biggest ever conference just finished. More importantly, the conference is increasingly well attended, and we no longer have to struggle to find decent quantitative panels or economists attending. That’s an encouraging sign.

Our IMISCOE research group on brain waste in the labour market had another successful high-level panel, and I’ve seen excellent work on discrimination in the labour market and immigrant integration. Perhaps it’s time to drop the E (for Europe) in IMISCOE…?