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Study: Men with Arabic-sounding names have much harder time renting flats in Finland

People with Arabic-sounding names - particularly men - have significantly lower chances of getting an apartment on the private market in Finland than their Finnish or Swedish-speaking counterparts, according to a new study from Åbo Akademi University in Turku. The research is the first of its kind in Finland.

File photo of an aerial view of Turku, where the study was carried out at Åbo Akademi University. Image: YLE / Lassi Lähteenmäki

A new study from Åbo Akademi University says that it is clearly more challenging for people with Arabic-sounding names - but mostly men under those circumstances - to find a flat to rent on the open market.

Researcher Annamaria Öblom co-authored the article "Ethnic and gender discrimination in the private rental housing market in Finland: A field experiment", published on Wednesday in the US scientific journal Plos One.

Öblom says she and her colleagues became interested in the topic after reading similar studies from other countries. They realised that no one had done such a study in Finland before.

She says that may be the reason why the topic has not been widely discussed in Finland.

The study, carried out last year, involved sending nearly 1,500 replies to flat rental advertisements around the country.

Names appear to matter

The replies were sent by email, each signed with one of these names: (Finnish) Juuso Laine and Anu Koskinen; (Swedish) Erik Johansson and Elisabeth Andersson; and (Arabic) Ali Hussein and Miriam Al-Zahavi.

"We chose the names according to data from the Population Register Centre, so that they would represent Swedish, Finnish and Arabic names, including men and women," Öblom says.

The study found that requests to view a flat by the male with an Arabic-sounding name were replied to 16 percent of the time, while the woman with a Finnish-sounding name got responses 42 percent of the time.

Psychological problems

The gender of the people renting out the apartments did not appear to have any effect on the results, according to the researcher.

Öblom says that research carried out in other countries that discrimination exists on the private housing rental market and that this study indicates this is true in Finland as well.

"But we haven't looked at the meaning, cause or effect of this. It could be investigated further, because it is an important next step," Öblom says.

"Considering that earlier studies show that discrimination increases psychological problems among those being discriminated against, and that ethnic discrimination on the housing market is an obstacle to successful integration, the results of the study are important," Öblom says.

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