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If You Want to Sell Something Online, Consider Asking Your White Friend for Help

• June 03, 2014 • 12:00 PM

Craigslist. (Photo: Gil C/Shutterstock)

New research from a pair of economists finds that buyers discriminate against sellers perceived as black.

A new study finds that users of classified advertisements 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.

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Doleac and Stein found that buyers were less likely to contact or make a deal with black sellers; they received 13 percent fewer responses and 17 percent 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.


This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “Distrust for Black Entrepreneurs.”

Lisa Wade
Lisa Wade, Ph.D., holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. in Human Sexuality from New York University. She is an associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @lisawade.

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