‘Making ends meet’ by renting homes to strangers: Historicizing Airbnb & women’s supplemental income

Authors: Kiley Goyette*, University of Toronto
Topics: Historical Geography, Women, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: short-term rentals, platform capitalism, women's labor, labor history, gendered inequality, housing, household economic strategies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Washington 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The short-term rental platform Airbnb commonly presents its service as helping ordinary people ‘make ends meet’ by renting parts of their home to strangers. The platform’s report dedicated to its female hosts continues this narrative, highlighting current statistics of gendered economic inequality and asserting the importance of short-term rentals as a “new source of supplemental income and opportunity” for women (Airbnb "Women Hosts" 2017, p. 2). However, historically women have relied on renting their homes to lodgers and boarders as an income strategy, but this practice was inscribed within class-based notions of gender and race which shifted with the historical context. This paper examines the particular social and cultural history of renting out homes as supplemental income, and critically examines Airbnb’s claims about empowering women by looking at the both ends of the expression ‘making ends meet’ : how Airbnb may negatively impact both living costs and income for many women by reflecting on the areas that Airbnb faces the most criticism: its effects on the hotel industry and on the availability of affordable housing. Leaving the histories of taking lodgers and women’s economic marginalization out of the frame, Airbnb’s "Women Hosts" report makes a compelling case for individual women to pursue their own empowerment through short-term rentals, without interrogating the impact their actions might collectively have on other women who are also trying ‘make ends meet’.

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