Advertising Injustices: Marketing Race and Credit in America

39 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2021

See all articles by Jim Hawkins

Jim Hawkins

University of Houston Law Center

Tiffany Penner

University of Houston, Law Center

Date Written: September 15, 2021


Access to affordable credit played a central role in the Civil Rights Movement. But today, racial and ethnic minorities oversubscribe to high-cost lending products like payday loans and underuse more affordable credit options that traditional banks offer. These trends remain even when controlling for demographic variables like income, credit score, and education. While research verifies that these disparities exist, little work explains why.

This Essay argues that advertising entrenches these racial inequities. Two empirical studies we conducted of advertising by banks and payday lenders suggest that payday lenders steer African Americans and Latinos to their products while banks market to whites. For instance, though African Americans make up only 23% of payday lending customers, 35% of the “model” customers featured in advertising on these lenders’ websites depict African Americans. Meanwhile, almost 30% of mainstream bank websites featured no African American models. Almost 75% featured no Latino models. Only 3% did not feature a white model. Even after the outcry over racial injustice in 2020, banks did not appreciably increase the representation of people of color on their websites.

This needs to change. We argue that lenders themselves are the first and simplest source for racial justice in advertising credit. Both payday lenders and banks can easily ensure that their advertising reflects the communities they serve. Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also have a role to play. Amendments we propose to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Community Reinvestment Act, and the regulations that implement them call for advertising that welcomes people of color to affordable credit sources.

Keywords: credit, banking, discrimination, advertising

JEL Classification: P46, P11

Suggested Citation

Hawkins, Jim and Penner, Tiffany, Advertising Injustices: Marketing Race and Credit in America (September 15, 2021). Emory Law Journal, Vol. 70, No. 1619, 2021, Available at SSRN:

Jim Hawkins

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

Tiffany Penner (Contact Author)

University of Houston, Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204
United States

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