Study Finds Racial Bias in Online Purchasing

white_black_handsResearch by scholars at the University of Virginia and Arizona State University finds that buyers show racial biases in online purchases. In a yearlong experiment, classified ads for selling iPods were placed on Craigslist in 300 locales throughout the United States. The ads were essentially the same except photographs showed the iPods in hands of either a Black man, a White man, or a White man with a tattoo on his wrist.

The study found that ads that showed a Black man holding the iPod received 13 percent fewer responses and 18 percent fewer offers than ads that showed an iPod in a White man’s hand without a tattoo. Offers received through ads that showed a Black man’s hand were on average more than 11 percent lower. The results for ads with a White man with a wrist tattoo were very similar to ads showing a Black man’s hand.

Jennifer Doleac, an assistant professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, and a co-author of the study, stated, “We were really struck to find as much racial discrimination as we did.”

The article, “The Visible Hand: Race and Online Market Outcomes,” was published in The Economic Journal of the Royal Economic Society. It may be accessed here.


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