September 12, 2016
Women Are Better Than Men,
at least at paying their mortgages. This is according to an Urban Institute research report that found that
It’s a fact: women on average pay more for mortgages. We are not the first people to have noticed this; a small number of other studies have also pointed it out (e.g., Cheng, Lin, and Liu 2011). One possible explanation is that women, particularly minority women, experience higher rates of subprime lending than their male peers (Fishbein and Woodall 2006; Phillips 2012; Wyly and Ponder 2011). Another explanation is that women tend to have weaker credit profiles (Van Rensselaer et al. 2013). We find that both these explanations are true and largely account for the higher rates.
Looking at loan performance for the first time by gender, however, we find that these weaker credit profiles do not translate neatly into weaker performance. In fact, when credit characteristics are held constant, women actually perform better than men. Nonetheless, since pricing is tied to credit characteristics not performance, women actually pay more relative to their actual risk than do men. Ironically, despite their better performance, women are more likely to be denied a mortgage than men. Given that more than one-third of female only borrowers are minorities and almost half of them live in low-income communities, we need to develop more robust and accurate measures of risk to ensure that we aren’t denying mortgages to women who are fully able to make good on their payments. (1)
This second paragraph undercuts the catchy title of the report, Women Are Better than Men at Paying Their Mortgage, because it is only true when comparing single women to single men and when credit characteristics are held constant.
The report confines its analysis to sole female and sole male borrowers, excluding two-borrower households. This limitation is compounded by the fact that the credit characteristics of men and women are not the same (as men have better credit characteristics as a group). As a result of these limitations, I think the title of the report goes too far. The authors also acknowledge that the stakes are not that high because the “inequality does not translate into a significant amount that single women overpay for their mortgages: less than $150 per female-only borrower per loan.” (15)
That point aside, the report does raise an important issue about whether credit characteristics metrics are biased against women: “the dimensions we rely on to assess credit risk today do not adequately capture all the differences. This omission has real consequences.” (15) This is certainly true, but lenders will have to carefully navigate fair lending laws as they seek to capture all of those differences.| Permalink