Chinyere Agbai. Wealth Begins at Home: The GI Bill of 1944 and the Making of the Racial Wealth Gap in Homeownership and Home Value

Hybrid: Zoom and 402 Social Sciences Bldg

Race and homeownership have been linked to notions of citizenship throughout American history. Policies including the Homestead Act of 1862 and New Deal policies of the mid-twentieth century have demonstrated the federal government’s commitment to subsidizing homeownership for white households. These policies have contributed to racial inequality in homeownership and, therefore, in wealth. An extensive literature explores the contemporary racial wealth gap through the lens of homeownership, however, few empirical works elucidate how policy has contributed to its production and reproduction. Taking the case of the Home Loan Guaranty of the 1944 GI Bill (HLG), one of the largest housing policies in American history, this paper asks (1) to what extent was there racial inequality in the implementation of the HLG? (2) What impact did this policy have on racial inequality in homeownership and home value? Results indicate that for Black veterans who were able to access the HLG, the policy’s effects on the probability of homeownership and on home value were equivalent to, or larger than, the effects for White veterans. However, because Black veterans were underrepresented among recipients of the HLG, the policy ultimately exacerbated racial inequality in homeownership and home value by 1960. 


Chinyere Agbai is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Brown University. Her research seeks to uncover the roots of the racial wealth gap in homeownership and examine their consequences for racial inequality in wealth and health. More broadly, her research interests include urban sociology; racial inequality; the social determinants of health; public policy; inequality and stratification; and social Demography. Her dissertation interrogates the extent to which policy has exacerbated racial inequality in housing wealth. The project then examines the extent to which this heavily and unequally subsidized housing wealth is linked to COVID-19 mortality. Her work is published in Social Science Research and RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, and it has been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the NIH NICHD. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma.