Combatting Stereotypes with Increased Information

This story from Alex Tabarok on a study by Cui, Li and Zhang come to remarkably similar results to a previous study on ban the box laws in hiring

We conduct four randomized field experiments among 1,801 hosts on Airbnb by creating fictitious guest accounts and sending accommodation requests to them. We find that requests from guests with African American-sounding names are 19.2 percentage points less likely to be accepted than those with white-sounding names. However, a positive review posted on a guest’s page significantly reduces discrimination: When guest accounts receive a positive review, the acceptance rates of guest accounts with white-sounding and African American-sounding names are statistically indistinguishable.

This is modest good news.  It means that the original discrimination observed against people using Airbnb with black names had more to do with perceptions or stereotypes of unknown black people (e.g. "maybe they are more likely to be a criminal") than an out-and-out attitude of not wanting to have blacks set foot in their house.  The former is not great but a hell of a lot easier to combat than the latter.  I would argue the breakthrough in attitudes on gay marriage had a lot to do with so many people coming out of the closet over the last decade or two that almost everyone ended up having friends or family who were gay, and who they knew first hand to be good people.  This overcame past attitudes about homosexuality which for many were based wholly on stereotypes within their local circle.

As I linked above, this result in the Airbnb study was similar to a study on how ban the box had the perverse effect of reducing hiring of African-Americans because it reduced information:

Jurisdictions across the United States have adopted “ban the box” (BTB) policies preventing employers from asking about job applicants’ criminal records until late in the hiring process. Their goal is to improve employment outcomes for those with criminal records, with a secondary goal of reducing racial disparities in employment. However, removing criminal history information could increase statistical discrimination against demographic groups that include more ex-offenders. We use variation in the timing of BTB policies to test BTB’s effects on employment. We find that BTB policies decrease the probability of employment by 3.4 percentage points (5.1%) for young, low-skilled black men.

In that case as well, when no information is available, people fall back on stereotypes.  Employers recognized that stereotypes about criminal behavior were weak information and readily overcame them when better information (e.g. background checks) were available.