A new study finds that users of classified ads discriminate against people perceived as black. Over a one year period, economists Jennifer Doleac and Luke Stein placed fake ads for used iPods in local online classified. They included photographs of the product held by a hand. Some hands were light-skinned, others dark, and they also included a second potentially stigmatized identity, men with tattoos. Otherwise the ads were all identical.
Doleac and Stein found that buyers were less likely to contact or make a deal with black sellers; they received 13% fewer responses and 17% fewer offers. When they did receive an offer, the price suggested was slightly lower than that offered to presumably white sellers.
Buyers also seemed to be significantly more suspicious of black sellers. When interacting with a seller with brown skin, Doleac and Stein write:
They are 17% less likely to include their name in e-mails, 44% less likely to accept delivery by mail, and 56% more likely to express concern about making a long-distance payment.
Black sellers did especially poorly in the Northeast, when there wasn’t very much competition, and in markets that were racially isolated or had high crime rates.
Notably, buyers discriminated against people with wrist tattoos at about the same rate, suggesting that both tattoos and brown skin inspire similar levels of distrust.Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.