Measuring Bias in Consumer Lending

This paper tests for bias in consumer lending using administrative data from a high-cost lender in the United Kingdom. We motivate our analysis using a new principal-agent model of bias where loan examiners are incentivized to maximize a short-term outcome, not long-term profits, leading to bias against illiquid applicants at the margin of loan decisions. We identify the profitability of marginal applicants using the quasi-random assignment of loan examiners, finding significant bias against immigrant and older applicants when using the firm’s preferred measure of long-run profits but not when using the short-run measure used to evaluate examiner performance. In this case, market incentives based on characteristics that vary across groups lead to inefficient group-based bias.

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