Gender bias and the availability of business loans

Social structure, values, and gender socialization have undoubtedly disadvantaged women in the process of preparing for a career in business, and there is a widely held view that women are subject to discrimination by financial institutions. However, the “evidence” to verify this belief has largely been from studies where women have claimed that they were subject to discrimination in the loan situation, without either supporting evidence, or control data from a sample of male loan applicants.

Two experiments were carried out, using a Goldberg type procedure, to test the belief that women are unfairly discriminated against when seeking a loan to establish a business venture. Carefully constructed scenarios of an application for loan finance to purchase a commercial enterprise were mailed to loan officers of major trading bank branches. The scenarios were identical in all respects except for the sex and education level of applicants. Loan officers were asked whether or not they would approve loan finance for the proposed business purchase and to indicate factors that contributed to their decisions.

Significant differences in response to female and male applicants were observed in both experiments. In Experiment I (University education) both sexes were equally likely to obtain a loan, but “education” was considered a more important factor for the female applicant than for the male. In Experiment II (High school education) the female applicant was less likely to obtain a loan than the male applicant.

The results support the widely held perception that women can experience gender discrimination when seeking start-up capital. Such discriminatory behavior by loan officers may not be, and probably is not, intentional. Rather, the pervasiveness of the social construction of differential gender roles in western culture is such that it is more likely that discrimination is unconscious, and consequently more difficult to change.

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