Whom do we trust?

A field experiment addressing ethnic discrimination in a multicultural society

Jorge Rodríguez Menés, Clara Cortina, M. José González and Aroa Arrufat Pijuan, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Amalia Gómez Casillas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Project selected in the Call for experimental research projects in the social sciences

Understanding ethnic discrimination has major policy implications in multicultural societies. Using experimental research, we investigate the prevalence of discrimination against ethnic minorities in Spain’s main online second-hand market. We find that when sellers receive an offer from (fictitious) buyers, they discriminate against them if the buyers are of Arab or Chinese origin, and only when the offer is at the listed price. However, buyers do not prefer the products of (fictitious) native sellers over those of (fictitious) minority sellers. We interpret this difference as possibly indicating the presence of statistical discrimination based on stereotypes about culturally distant minorities’ behaviour as buyers, as compared to their behaviour as sellers.
Key points
  • 1
       We find evidence of discrimination in market transactions against buyers with culturally distant ethnic backgrounds (7% more real sellers prefer fictitious buyers with Catalan, Spanish or Latin-American names over fictitious buyers with Arab or Chinese names). Discrimination occurs only if the offer is made at the listed price.
  • 2
       We do not find evidence of discrimination in market transactions against ethnic minority sellers: real buyers do not make more bids for products sold by fictitious sellers with Spanish or Catalan names than when the fictitious sellers have Arab, Chinese, or Latin-American names.
  • 3
       The presence of discrimination against buyers and the absence of discrimination against sellers of culturally distant ethnic backgrounds could be due to experimental effects, but also to forms of statistical discrimination based on stereotypes about minorities’ behaviour as buyers (e.g., being seen as less trustful) and sellers (seen as equally trustworthy).
Sixty-five percent of the offers made by native buyers received a positive response from real sellers, while only 58% of those made by minority buyers did
Sixty-five percent of the offers made by native buyers received a positive response from real sellers, while only 58% of those made by minority buyers did

Differences between fictitious buyers distinguished by their native or foreign background in the percentage of positive responses received from real sellers (left), and in the number of bids made by real buyers for fictitious sellers’ products (right). We find evidence of discrimination against ethnic minorities only on the buying side, not on the sellers’ side. The average number of positive enquiries received by fictitious sellers from real buyers was similar regardless of whether their names denoted native or minority background (about 2 messages each). 

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Jorge Rodríguez Menés, Clara Cortina, M. José González and Aroa Arrufat Pijuan , Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Amalia Gómez Casillas , Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

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