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Finding a Roommate on Craigslist: Racial Discrimination and Residential Segregation

34 Pages Posted: 15 May 2015 Last revised: 27 May 2017

Raj Ghoshal

Goucher College

S. Michael Gaddis

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Sociology

Date Written: May 8, 2015


This study uses experimental methods to investigate covert racial discrimination in “roommate wanted” ads on Craigslist. Roommate relationships include significant social dimensions, and are an important site through which segregation may be reproduced or broken down, but have received very little attention by researchers. We develop fictitious racially-coded female names and identities for white, black, Hispanic, Chinese, and Indian room-seekers, along with Hispanic, Chinese, and Indian room-seekers with “Americanized” first names. We implement a field experiment and respond to over 1,500 “roommate wanted” advertisements on Craigslist across three metropolitan areas. Our emails express interest in the roommate-wanted ad, and mention that the sender is college-educated and employed full-time. We monitor response rates in the aggregate and within Census tracts of varying racial and economic characteristics. We find severe discrimination against African Americans, Hispanics, and Chinese-origin individuals. Asians with Americanized first names are treated equally to whites, while traditional Indian names and Americanized Latina names face moderate levels of discrimination. Patterns of discrimination by neighborhood race and class characteristics yield better access to upward mobility for Asian Americans than for underrepresented minority group members. Our findings reveal an important social mechanism that constricts integration and opportunity, shed new light on Asians’ and Latinas’ place in the US race system, reveal important interactions of race and presumed nativity, and show the ongoing relevance of race.

Keywords: race, discrimination, audit, experiment, residential segregation, craigslist, racial discrimination, inequality, audit study

JEL Classification: C93, J60, J70, J71, L85, R20

Suggested Citation

Ghoshal, Raj and Gaddis, S. Michael, Finding a Roommate on Craigslist: Racial Discrimination and Residential Segregation (May 8, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Raj Ghoshal

Goucher College ( email )

1021 Dulaney Valley Road
Baltimore, MD 21204-2794
United States

S. Michael Gaddis (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Sociology ( email )

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States

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