Tilburg University department Economics

Taste-based discrimination: evidence from the Netherlands

Published: 10th October 2019 Last updated: 21st December 2022

Stereotyping is not the sole cause of discrimination against ethnic groups applying for jobs or seeking to rent a house. According to research by Elena Cettolin and Sigrid Suetens, it is also a matter of ‘taste-based discrimination’ by employers and landlords.

Taste-based discrimination

The study, published in the July 2019 issue of The Economic Journal, considers how native Europeans make choices that have consequences for ‘non-western’ minorities by using a controlled study designed to isolate taste-based discrimination.

The authors contacted ‘native Dutch’ participants of the Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social Sciences Panel and put them in a position where they received a monetary investment from another person, and were given the latter’s first name. Half of the participants were matched to a ‘native’ Dutch person and the other half to a person with a ‘non-western’ immigration background. They had a choice of two options: share the returns on the investment with this other person or keep most of it for themselves.

Non-western background

Participants matched to a person with a ‘non-western’ background share the returns on the investment up to 12.5% less often than participants matched to a native Dutch person. The difference is even larger among participants who reported negative views about ethnic diversity and immigration in the Netherlands in a survey conducted a year before the study, this group being up to 20% less likely to share the returns.


For policymakers wishing to tackle problems of discrimination, knowing where discrimination comes from is important. Correspondence studies, for example, have shown that applicants with a ‘non-western’ name are less likely to be invited for a job interview or less frequently accepted as tenants than applicants with a native name, even if their background is otherwise the same. However, while they can detect discrimination, they cannot identify its source. Is discrimination due to employers acting upon (possibly biased) information about the productivity of ‘non-western’ applicants, i.e. stereotyping? Or is the discrimination due to employers not liking certain groups (taste-based discrimination)? The study by Cettolin and Suetens indicates that tastes play a role.

Changing tastes requires policy measures other than changing stereotypes. Given the results of this study, the authors argue that policies which rely on providing information about ethnic minority groups will in all likelihood be insufficient in eradicating discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Academic profile: dr. Elena Cettolin

Academic profile: prof. dr. Sigrid Suetens