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

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  • Gyourko, Joseph
  • Tracy, Joseph

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Gyourko, Joseph & Tracy, Joseph, 2014. "Reconciling theory and empirics on the role of unemployment in mortgage default," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 87-96.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:juecon:v:80:y:2014:i:c:p:87-96
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jue.2013.10.005
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Christopher Foote & Kristopher Gerardi & Lorenz Goette & Paul Willen, 2010. "Reducing Foreclosures: No Easy Answers," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2009, Volume 24, pages 89-138 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. repec:aei:rpaper:32621 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
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    6. Yongheng Deng & John M. Quigley & Robert Van Order, 2000. "Mortgage Terminations, Heterogeneity and the Exercise of Mortgage Options," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(2), pages 275-308, March.
    7. Andrew Caplin & Anna Cororaton & Joseph Tracy, 2015. "Is the FHA Creating Sustainable Homeownership?," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 43(4), pages 957-992, November.
    8. Kristopher S. Gerardi & Adam Hale Shapiro & Paul S. Willen, 2007. "Subprime outcomes: risky mortgages, homeownership experiences, and foreclosures," Working Papers 07-15, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    9. Marianna Kudlyak & Andra Ghent, 2010. "Recourse and Residential Mortgage Default: Theory and Evidence from U.S. States," 2010 Meeting Papers 33, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    10. 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 490-494, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Niu, Yi & Ding, Chengri, 2015. "Unemployment matters: Improved measures of labor market distress in mortgage default analysis," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 27-38.
    2. Fernando Ferreira & Joseph Gyourko, 2015. "A New Look at the U.S. Foreclosure Crisis: Panel Data Evidence of Prime and Subprime Borrowers from 1997 to 2012," NBER Working Papers 21261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Kelly, Robert & McCann, Fergal, 2016. "Some defaults are deeper than others: Understanding long-term mortgage arrears," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 15-27.
    4. Andrew Caplin & Anna Cororaton & Joseph Tracy, 2015. "Is the FHA Creating Sustainable Homeownership?," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 43(4), pages 957-992, November.
    5. Chauvet, Marcelle & Gabriel, Stuart & Lutz, Chandler, 2016. "Mortgage default risk: New evidence from internet search queries," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 91-111.
    6. Crocker H. Liu & Adam Nowak & Stuart Rosenthal, 2014. "Bubbles, Post-Crash Dynamics, and the Housing Market," Working Papers 14-18, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
    7. Jason Allen & Kiana Basiri, 2016. "The Impact of Bankruptcy Reform on Insolvency Choice and Consumer Credit," Staff Working Papers 16-26, Bank of Canada.
    8. Foote, Christopher L. & Willen, Paul S., 2017. "Mortgage-default research and the recent foreclosure crisis," Working Papers 17-13, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    9. Dietsch, Michel & Petey, Joël, 2015. "The credit-risk implications of home ownership promotion: The effects of public subsidies and adjustable-rate loans," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(C), pages 103-120.
    10. Gerardi, Kristopher & Herkenhoff, Kyle F. & Ohanian, Lee E. & Willen, Paul S., 2013. "Can't Pay or Won't Pay? Unemployment, Negative Equity, and Strategic Default," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2013-04, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, revised 01 Jun 2017.
    11. Francesca Castelli & Damien Moore & Gabriel Ehrlich & Jeffrey Perry, 2014. "Modeling the Budgetary Costs of FHA's Single Family Mortgage Insurance: Working Paper 2014-05," Working Papers 45711, Congressional Budget Office.
    12. Andersson, Fredrik & Mayock, Tom, 2014. "How does home equity affect mobility?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 23-39.
    13. Liu, Crocker H. & Nowak, Adam & Rosenthal, Stuart S., 2016. "Housing price bubbles, new supply, and within-city dynamics," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 55-72.

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    Keywords

    Mortgage default; Unemployment; FHA;

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