D&INew study finds payday lending industry often targets Black and Latino communities in advertising

University of Houston Law Center researchers push for bank's and payday lender's advertising to be equitable.
Marcom Weekly StaffJanuary 3, 20226 min

The payday lending industry often targets Black and Latino communities in advertising their products, while the mainstream banking industry targets white consumers, according to a new study published in Emory Law Journal. Researchers found that while African Americans make up only 16 percent of auto title lending customers and 23 percent of payday lending customers, 35 percent of the photographs on these lenders’ websites depict African Americans.

University of Houston Law Center Professor Jim Hawkins and student Tiffany Penner conducted the study, “Advertising Injustices: Marketing Race and Credit in America.” In it, Hawkins and Penner present two empirical studies on lenders in Houston, which verified these disparities in online advertising.

“Everyone knows that advertising affects behavior, so we were interested in how banks and payday lenders advertise,” the authors said. “Social scientists have shown that people buy goods and services when they see other people who look like them buying those products. We wanted to know if banks and payday lenders were depicting their customers in a way that represented the general population or only some races.”

The study also found that:

  • 77% of the advertisements at physical locations of auto title and payday lenders in the study targeted racial minority groups.
  • 30% of mainstream bank lender websites featured no African American models and almost 75% featured no Latino models.
  • In contrast, only 3%—a single bank’s website—did not feature a white model.

Hawkins and Penner examined two important negative consequences that emerge from targeting African Americans and Latinos for payday and title loans while pictorially excluding them from mainstream banks. The first consequence is that the advertising works, and African Americans and Latinos are more likely than white customers to use high-cost credit. The University of Houston Law Center announced that they also found that advertising forms societal norms and expectations of where people “fit.” This in turn, according to the study, creates a “self-sorting” effect and contributes to racial disparity in credit access.

Hawkins and Penner’s goal for the study is to achieve a positive impact that will change the way lenders advertise. Specifically, they encourage financial institutions to eliminate discriminatory marketing that omits certain racial groups, as some banks currently only feature white models in advertisements.

“We hope that businesses will voluntarily change their advertising practices to represent people from all races in their advertising,” the authors said. “Additionally, we urge Congress to amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to explicitly prohibit discriminatory advertising by creditors, and federal regulatory bodies to use that Act as well as the Community Reinvestment Act to make bank’s and payday lender’s advertising equitable.”

Hawkins serves as the Alumnae Professor of Law at the UH Law Center. He earned his J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law, where he was the grand chancellor and served as the chief articles editor of the Texas Law Review. During his career, he has published or placed articles in publications such as Science, the UCLA Law Review and more. His research has been featured in top-tier media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Penner is a rising third-year student at the UH Law Center, where she is a member of the Houston Law Review and served on the executive board for the First-Generation Professionals student organization. During law school, she worked as a summer associate at King & Spalding and a judicial intern for Lee H. Rosenthal, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Before law school, she worked at NASA as a contracts specialist for the International Space Station Program.

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