Out now — No Sign of Increased Ethnic Discrimination during a Crisis: Evidence from the Covid-19 Pandemic

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been an increase in hate-crime again Asians in many countries around the world. Some identified more negative attitudes against immigrants — a classic case of what is known as scapegoating.

In this article, just out at the Socio-Economic Review, we wanted to know if scapegoating and discrimination of minorities is a defining feature of crises. That’s what social theory argues. In the present case, we wanted to know if ethnic discrimination increased, too — the actual (and consequential) behaviour where minorities are invited less often to view apartments they want to rent. To do so, we replicated a field experiment in the Swiss housing market at the beginning of the pandemic.

Overall, we find no evidence of increased discrimination against the most important immigrant groups in Switzerland. When digging deeper, we found that uncertainty in the housing market was important. Rather than excluding immigrants more often, proprietors and rental agencies seem to have changed their selection behaviour and focus on different signals or markers of solvency and reliability: Instead of ethnicity/minority status, now immigrants with highly skilled jobs were at an advantage.

We conclude that crises do not necessarily increase discriminatory behaviour in market situations.

Auer, Daniel, Didier Ruedin, and Eva Van Belle. 2023. ‘No Sign of Increased Ethnic Discrimination during a Crisis: Evidence from the Covid-19 Pandemic’. Socio-Economic Review. DOI: 10.1093/ser/mwac069

Discrimination in the housing market as structural racism

A brief summary of our 2018 study on ethnic discrimination in the Swiss housing market that makes the explicit link to structural racism. Here’s a translation for those who don’t ready German, French, or Italian… (hat tip to machine translations):

A 2018 field experiment in the Swiss housing market shows that people who are racialized because of their Turkish or Kosovo Albanian name are less likely to be invited to viewings.

Shqipe Krasniqi and Daniela Gerber each want to apply for the bright three-bedroom flat in the quiet outer district. The surroundings fit, they like the photos in the advertisement, so they both write to the contact person. There will certainly be other interested parties, so they write a short letter introducing themselves — just as the real estate platform recommends.
Daniela Gerber is invited for a viewing appointment; Shqipe Krasniqi hears nothing more. If it was just this one time, Shqipe Krasniqi probably wouldn’t give it another thought — there were probably too many applications. What Shqipe Krasniqi probably feels we can demonstrate in the social sciences: People who are racialized because of their name are more likely to be eliminated in that first round, without the opportunity to make a good impression in a personal interview.

Using randomly generated, fictitious candidates, we requested an appointment to view a flat over 11,000 times between March and October 2018. We covered the whole of Switzerland, both urban and rural areas. The fictitious candidates had a Swiss name, a Turkish name, a Kosovo-Albanian name, or a name from a neighbouring country (adapted to the language region).

In all of Switzerland, in all regions, we found that people who are racialized because of their Turkish or Albanian name are less likely to be invited to a viewing appointment. We can also show that naturalization does not protect against discrimination: There is no difference in the response rate. Conversely, people whose names indicate a neighbouring country are not treated differently from those with Swiss names. These differences clearly show that it is a matter of racialization and not a rejection of persons without a Swiss passport. The experimental procedure allows us to rule out other reasons.

The experiment also shows well that not all proprietors or agencies have to act on the basis of racial attribution for a structure to emerge. In fact, in most cases, both people are invited: those with the Swiss name and those with the “foreign” name. Nevertheless, on average, there remains a systematic disadvantage for the racialized persons.

A single experiment cannot represent the whole system or figure out which stereotypes or other reasons lead to the decisions. It is possible that these are “gut decisions” that may turn out differently for the same person next time — but we clearly know that on average people with Turkish and Kosovo Albanian names are disadvantaged. Also not covered are the consequences, e.g. that Shqipe Krasniqi will probably have to look for a flat for longer or eventually move to a more expensive flat or to a noisy street and thus face further disadvantages, for example in health or education.

As a first step, it is important to recognize — in politics, among industry representatives, in society — that structural racism occurs in the housing market as in other areas of life. Training can raise awareness, but without a strong legal framework, proprietors have little incentive to change their behaviour in the current market.

Auer, Daniel, Julie Lacroix, Didier Ruedin, and Eva Zschirnt. 2022. “Diskriminierung im Wohnungsmarkt als struktureller Rassismus.” Tangram, 2022. https://www.ekr.admin.ch/publikationen/d872.html. FR, IT