Discrimination in the Housing Market: In the Press

Our study on the discrimination of people with foreign-sounding names in housing market in Switzerland has been picked up by the press. The sunday tabloid SonntagsBlick run the story with many details. I was happy to see that the news report, as well as the press coverage that followed in other newspapers, was quite accurate.

I even ventured into the online comments, just curious to see what the self-select group of commenters had to say. A few offered their own experience of what we describe in the report: flats not being available when a person with a foreign name phones up, but still available when a person with a ‘native’ name phones up. Quite a few defended the right to discriminate and offered their own experience as landlords, hearsay, and stereotypes as justifications for what we would call statistical discrimination. (This kind of ‘evidence’ is also quite ‘funny’ in the sense that whether you had a good or bad experience with tenants from XYZ, there’s another commentator with the opposite experience.) I find this quite interesting, and we had similar reactions in a study on hiring discrimination: A substantial part of the population does not seem to understand that statistical discrimination is also discrimination. Quite interesting is that none of the comments I have seen picked up on the difference between having a ‘foreign-sounding’ name, and being a foreign citizen — the perception as ethnic groups. Our results hold irrespective of citizenship, so we show that some Swiss citizens are discriminated (too) because of their name.

Press coverage: SonntagsBlick, Tages-Anzeiger, Bluewin, Basler Zeitung, Nau.ch, 20 Minuten, Mieterverband

Auer, Daniel, Julie Lacroix, Didier Ruedin, and Eva Zschirnt. 2019. ‘Ethnische Diskriminierung auf dem Schweizer Wohnungsmarkt’. Grenchen: BWO.

Image: cc-by turkeychik

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.

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). http://www.nber.org/papers/w22278.pdf.

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

An Overview of Recent Correspondence Tests

In a recent IZA working paper, Stijn Baert offers a long list of correspondence tests: field experiments where equivalent CV are sent to employer to capture discrimination in hiring. What’s quite exciting about this list is that it covers all kinds of characteristics, from nationality to gender, from religion to sexual orientation. What’s also great is the promise to keep this list up-to-date on his website. At the same time, the register does not describe the inclusion criteria in great detail. I was surprised not to find some of the studies Eva Zschirnt and I included in our meta-analysis on the list, despite our making all the material available on Dataverse. Was this an oversight — the title of the working paper includes an “almost” –, or was this due to inclusion criteria? What I found really disappointing was the misguided focus on p-values to identify the ‘treatment effect’. All in all a useful list for those interested in hiring discrimination more generally.