Reverse Mortgages and Racial Inequalities in Wealth and Health

Awarded Scholars:
Danya Keene, Yale University
Project Date:
Nov 2014
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

A growing literature has documented the ways that racial inequalities in wealth, health, and access to credit have threatened the stability of homeownership during the recent housing crisis and prior to it. Reverse mortgages, which allow older homeowners to covert home equity into cash in return for the lender receiving the home at the time of their death, are an understudied component of the housing landscape. Racially-stratified wealth and health vulnerabilities may shape decisions surrounding reverse mortgages, as well as the risks and benefits of this loan option. Furthermore, these loans may have implications for the intergenerational transmission of wealth and the perpetuation of inequalities. Despite the potential significance of this program, we currently know little about the experiences of applying for or receiving a reverse mortgage, especially for non-white homeowners.

Public health expert Danya Keene will undertake an in-depth qualitative study of reverse mortgage loans among African American, white and Latino homeowners. The study will examine the following questions: 1) What are the life circumstances and decision making processes that precede reverse mortgage loans? In particular, how might health and wealth vulnerabilities play a role in this process? 2) How do older homeowners learn about reverse mortgages and how do they evaluate this information? 3) What are the implications of reverse mortgages for the bodily, social and economic well-being of black, white and Latino homeowners and their families?

This study will rely on seventy-two semi-structured interviews conducted with homeowners who are considering, have applied for or have received a reverse mortgage. In addition to these participant interviews, Keene will conduct key informant interviews with loan officers, housing counselors and lawyers. The interviews will include broad and open-ended questions with follow-up probes. Each interview will be followed by a close-ended survey in order to ensure comparable demographic and housing information for each participant.


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