Many foreigners are charged more rent than Swiss for similar accommodation, researchers have found.
In the two biggest cities, Zurich and Geneva, foreign nationals can pay up to seven per cent more in rent, according to the study published in the Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics.
The research team led by Andrea Baranzini of the Geneva School of Business Administration say their findings are proof of geographical segregation, economic discrimination and prejudice against foreigners - particularly those who are less well educated.
The team say that overall the difference is minimal – two per cent - but the gap is much higher between foreigners and Swiss with a lower level of education.
Foreigners without higher education pay on average 5.2 per cent more in Geneva and 6.8 per cent more in Zurich than a Swiss educated to a similar level.
The findings were no surprise to the research authors.
"We were expecting discrimination and segregation," Baranzini told swissinfo, adding that although the difference in rent was less than they had expected, it could add up to around SFr1,000 ($887) a year, no small sum for a low paid worker.
Interesting case study
He says the study is the first of its kind in Switzerland, where about one-fifth of the population are foreign nationals - one of the highest proportions in the western industrialised countries.
Switzerland is also an interesting case study because about two-thirds of accommodation is rented, a higher proportion than in any other industrialised country. The rental market is more prone to discrimination as it revolves around relationships between landlords and tenants.
But to date there has been little Swiss research on residential segregation and discrimination, the researchers say.
The team based their study on data of people living in canton Geneva and the municipality of Zurich in the 2000 Swiss population census. The proportion of foreigners was 33 and 28 per cent respectively. The groups were then further broken down into people with and without higher education.
The study found positive correlations between rental costs and various factors. One was segregation, where foreigners with a low educational level were concentrated in the same area, and another was discrimination, where the landlord decides to charge a higher rent to certain categories of person.
"Our results shed light on a few facets of segregation, prejudice and discrimination. It is the first time that you are looking at discrimination and segregation in that way," Baranzini said.
"We are seeing that it is not enough to look at the differences in rent between foreigners and Swiss as some studies do, but you have to look at these differences with the same quality of apartments, buildings and neighbourhood and with the methodology we have used."
"I hope it will be interesting to people in the field who make integration policy. It's up to them to decide if our results are important or not."
The study authors also found that the "largest share of foreigners have been living in Switzerland for many years and are well integrated".
The team say the research paves the way for a more thorough analysis of the situation and in particular of the differences in living conditions between the groups.
swissinfo, Jessica Dacey
The study published in the Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics is entitled "Do foreigners pay higher rents for the same quality of housing in Geneva and Zurich?"
It was written by a team led by Andrea Baranzini, Caroline Schaerer and José Ramirez of the Geneva School of Business Administration, and including Philippe Thalmann of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
The study began by drawing on information from the 2000 Swiss population census, with 352,684 people in Geneva and 338,239 individuals in Zurich. The researchers then calculated the following socio-economic variables: the number of individuals with low level education (no higher education) aged 16 and over, and number of foreigners with low and high (university or college) levels of education.
In Geneva, 18% of household heads in foreign populations had low education levels, and the figure was 11% in Zurich household heads.
The mean monthly rent in 2000 was SFr1,082 in Geneva and SFr1,221 in Zurich.
The Zurich sample contained slightly older buildings than the Geneva sample: about 40% of the buildings were built before 1946 in Zurich and 29% in Geneva. There was an average of three rooms and the average surface of the room was 26 square metres. The sizes of the homes were about the same for the two areas.