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No Room for New Families? A Field Experiment Measuring Rental Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples and Single Parents

Nathanael Lauster, Adam Easterbrook
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2011.58.3.389 389-409 First published online: 1 August 2011


We suggest that new forms of family households, especially same-sex couples and single parents, are likely to face discrimination in their interactions with rental markets. Following the contact hypothesis, we hypothesize that the geographic distribution of discrimination is likely to vary. Specifically, in places with more new family households we are likely to find less discrimination against these households. We investigate these issues in the metropolitan area of Vancouver, Canada, through analysis of 1,669 inquiries made about one- and two-bedroom apartments. Using a field experimental design similar to audit studies, we analyze landlord responses to five different two-person household scenarios, including one heterosexual couple, two same-sex couples, and two single parents. Evidence suggests that male same-sex couples, single mothers, and single fathers all face significant discrimination relative to heterosexual couples. The contact hypothesis was supported for male same-sex couples, but not for single parents. This could indicate that single parents are facing discrimination primarily based upon their economic marginalization rather than other forms of prejudice.

  • housing discrimination
  • family
  • single parent
  • sexuality
  • audit study

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