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Reconciling theory and empirics on the role of unemployment in mortgage default

  • Gyourko, Joseph
  • Tracy, Joseph

Empirical models of mortgage default typically find that the influence of unemployment is negligible compared to other well known risk factors such as high borrower leverage or low borrower FICO scores. This is at odds with theory, which assigns a critical role to unemployment in the decision to stop payment on a mortgage. We help reconcile this divergence by employing a novel empirical strategy involving simulated unemployment histories to measure the severity of attenuation bias in loan-level estimations of default risk due to a borrower becoming unemployed. Attenuation bias results because individual data on unemployment status is unobserved, requiring that a market-wide unemployment rate be used as a proxy. Attenuation is extreme, with our results suggesting that the use of an aggregate unemployment rate in lieu of actual borrower unemployment status results in default risk from a borrower becoming unemployed being underestimated by a factor more than 100. In addition, our analysis indicates that adding the unemployment rate as a proxy for the missing borrower-specific unemployment indicator does not improve the accuracy of the estimated model over the specification without the proxy variable included. Hence, aggregate portfolio-level risk estimates for mortgage guarantors such as FHA also are not improved.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Urban Economics.

Volume (Year): 80 (2014)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 87-96

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Handle: RePEc:eee:juecon:v:80:y:2014:i:c:p:87-96
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622905

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  1. Foote, Christopher L. & Gerardi, Kristopher & Willen, Paul S., 2008. "Negative equity and foreclosure: Theory and evidence," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 234-245, September.
  2. Andrew Caplin & Anna Cororaton & Joseph Tracy, 2012. "Is the FHA Creating Sustainable Homeownership?," NBER Working Papers 18190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Paul S. Willen & Adam Hale Shapiro & Kristopher Gerardi, 2008. "Subprime Outcomes: Risky Mortgages, Homeownership Experiences, and Foreclosures," 2008 Meeting Papers 345, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  4. Ronel Elul & Nicholas S. Souleles & Souphala Chomsisengphet & Dennis Glennon & Robert Hunt, 2010. "What "Triggers" Mortgage Default?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), pages 490-94, May.
  5. Yongheng Deng & John M. Quigley & Robert Van Order, . "Mortgage Terminations, Heterogeneity and the Exercise of Mortgage Options," Zell/Lurie Center Working Papers 322, Wharton School Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center, University of Pennsylvania.
  6. repec:aei:rpaper:32621 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Caplin, Andrew & Freeman, Charles & Tracy, Joseph, 1997. "Collateral Damage: Refinancing Constraints and Regional Recessions," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 29(4), pages 496-516, November.
  8. Kau James B. & Keenan Donald C. & Kim Taewon, 1994. "Default Probabilities for Mortgages," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 278-296, May.
  9. Christopher Foote & Kristopher Gerardi & Lorenz Goette & Paul Willen, 2009. "Reducing Foreclosures: No Easy Answers," NBER Working Papers 15063, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Andra C. Ghent & Marianna Kudlyak, 2010. "Recourse and residential mortgage default: theory and evidence from U.S. states," Working Paper 09-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
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