Panel Paper: Does Information Reduce Discriminatory Behavior? Evidence from an Online Experiment

Friday, November 9, 2018
Harding - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Schwegman1, Judson Murchie2 and Jindong Pang1, (1)Syracuse University, (2)Wells Fargo

In this paper, we present the results of an online experiment designed to influence rental agent behavior in order to increase equal treatment in the U.S. rental housing market. This project combines a randomized experiment with a correspondence audit to measure the impact that awareness of Fair Housing law has on landlord behavior. The experiment creates a treatment group of rental agents (randomly gathered from Craigslist rental housing posts) who receive informational emails about Fair Housing law. In the following days, we conduct a fully-randomized single-email correspondence audit varying applicant information by race (signaled via racialized name). We compare response rates by landlords of treated properties (those receiving a fair housing informational email) with those of untreated properties (those receiving no fair housing information). This research is designed to shed light on the role that knowledge of fair housing law has on discrimination, as well as how effective an email distribution of fair housing law is when disseminating policy. This project is both timely and important because an increasingly large supply of rental housing is provided via online platforms, such as Craigslist, rather than through licensed realtors educated about Fair Housing law. From an initial pilot of 2000 rental agents, we find consistent evidence that rental agents that received the treatment respond at higher rates to non-White inquiries than rental agents that did not receive the email. This paper provides evidence that low-cost policy interventions may be effective at reducing discrimination (at least racial discrimination) in the U.S. rental markets.