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Did you know that callers with a Turkish name receive fewer invitations to view apartments (but only if they speak with an accent)?

June 2018

Access to housing is known to play a crucial role for the integration and participation of immigrants, not only since the current refugee crisis. Ethnic discrimination on the housing market is therefore an important form of disadvantage. Empirical proof is often difficult, however, as diverse arguments can be brought forward to justify why a particular person without migration background was preferred. For this reason, researchers have turned to so-called audit studies which are an experimental method to provide evidence for discrimination. Such studies direct fictitious applications that differ only in the characteristic of interest (e.g., ethnic background) towards the same openings. Differing responses depending on ethnic background can then be interpreted as discrimination.

In a recently published study, ISS researcher Clemens Kroneberg and his collaborators Andreas Horr (LIfBi, Bamberg) and Christian Hunkler (MEA, Munich) had callers in Mannheim and Ludwigshafen respond to more than 800 apartment openings in newspapers to arrange a viewing appointment over the phone. The aim of the study was not only to examine the extent of ethnic discrimination but also to learn about the underlying mechanisms. Results show that there was no discrimination against callers with Turkish names. However, callers with both a Turkish name and accent were invited to view apartments significantly less often (a difference of 14 percentage points). This disadvantage largely disappeared when callers stated as part of their first sentence that they were moving to the city for job-related reasons. This information about steady employment can be assumed to signal more steady employment and greater financial reliability. Thus, rather than being due to non-acceptance of foreigners per se, the observed discrimination seems to largely reflect landlords’ beliefs about the average financial reliability of different ethnic groups (so-called statistical discrimination). This mechanism can be expected to be even more relevant in housing markets like Cologne or Munich where landlords face an even greater surplus demand.