Discrimination in Online Markets: Effects of Social Bias on Learning from Reviews and Policy Design

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Faidra Georgia Monachou, Itai Ashlagi


The increasing popularity of online two-sided markets such as ride-sharing, accommodation and freelance labor platforms, goes hand in hand with new socioeconomic challenges. One major issue remains the existence of bias and discrimination against certain social groups. We study this problem using a two-sided large market model with employers and workers mediated by a platform. Employers who seek to hire workers face uncertainty about a candidate worker's skill level. Therefore, they base their hiring decision on learning from past reviews about an individual worker as well as on their (possibly misspecified) prior beliefs about the ability level of the social group the worker belongs to. Drawing upon the social learning literature with bounded rationality and limited information, uncertainty combined with social bias leads to unequal hiring opportunities between workers of different social groups. Although the effect of social bias decreases as the number of reviews increases (consistent with empirical findings), minority workers still receive lower expected payoffs. Finally, we consider a simple directed matching policy (DM), which combines learning and matching to make better matching decisions for minority workers. Under this policy, there exists a steady-state equilibrium, in which DM reduces the discrimination gap.