A recent study by University of Iowa sociologist Sarah Harkness produced startling results. According to her research, Black women are perceived just as favorably as White men when they are trying to get a loan.
Harkness wanted to know just how much race and gender stereotypes factored into the loan process so she gathered hundreds of undergraduate students and alumni, which included banking professionals, and asked them to lend $1,000 to hypothetical loan applicants. The race, education, and gender of the applicants varied, but they were all in the same financial situation.
While an applicant’s education influenced the opinions of the lender, it didn’t discount the impact of race and gender.
Some cultural stereotypes consistently influenced how much money the study participants were willing to lend.
For example, African-American men were viewed as least competent and received the least amount of funding, followed by white women. In comments, the lenders reported they had held these two groups to a harsher standard, and perceived them more negatively. This meant being less forgiving of small errors such as typos. It also meant making unfavorable assumptions about the nature of the applicants’ employment (whether it was temporary versus permanent, for example) and their level of intelligence.
Yet the lenders’ perceptions of African American females and white males were predominately positive, albeit based on stereotypes. “There was an assumption that the African-American woman was on her own raising a family and was therefore a motivated, hardworking and self-confident breadwinner,” Harkness explains.
In this case, a common stereotype caused the lenders to view the African American female borrower as more capable and trustworthy than many of her fellow applicants. That pre-conceived notion was enough to convince study participants that she would make her best effort to repay the loan.
In contrast, when evaluating a white female borrower, the lenders tended to be distrustful. Harkness explains this could be due to the fact that the hypothetical lenders were focused primarily on gender stereotypes (e.g. women are less capable and assertive than males) and less on race.
So Black women were able to secure loans as easily as White men (but do we get the same interest rates?) because we are perceived as strong, single mamas? Umm….yay?