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The exact cause of the massive defaults and foreclosures in the U.S. subprime mortgage market is still unclear. This paper investigates whether a particular aspect of borrowers' financial literacy - their numerical ability - may have played a role. The authors measure several aspects of financial literacy and cognitive ability in a survey of subprime mortgage borrowers who took out mortgages in 2006 or 2007 and match these measures to objective data on mortgage characteristics and repayment performance. They find a large and statistically significant negative correlation between numerical ability and various measures of delinquency and default. Foreclosures starts are approximately two-thirds lower in the group with the highest measured level of numerical ability compared with the group with the lowest measured level.
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