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Changing Household Financial Opportunities and Economic Security

  • Karen E. Dynan
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    Households have experienced an expansion of financial opportunities over the past several decades. Expanded financial opportunities, such as the democratization of credit and new lending approaches, can yield benefits in terms of household economic security. However, the financial crisis that began in 2007 has powerfully illustrated that expanded financial opportunities can also pose dangers for households. By increasing the scope for investment in risky assets, people may end up with larger swings in wealth than they had anticipated. Households may borrow too much and then face obligations that are unsustainable given their resources. To explore these issues, I examine household data on wealth, assets, and liabilities going back 25 years and, in some cases, 45 years. I argue that changes in household finances in the decades leading up to the mid-1990s -- including the gradual rise in indebtedness -- likely increased household well-being, on balance, and contributed to a decline in aggregate economic volatility. However, changes in finances since the mid-1990s -- in particular, a much sharper rate of increase in household debt -- appear to have been destabilizing for many individual households and ultimately for the economy as a whole. I consider how the lessons learned in the current crisis might change household financial opportunities and choices going forward.

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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.23.4.49
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/jep/app/2304_dynan_data_appendix.pdf
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    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 23 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
    Pages: 49-68

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:23:y:2009:i:4:p:49-68
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.4.49
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    1. Christopher Mayer & Karen Pence & Shane M. Sherlund, 2009. "The Rise in Mortgage Defaults," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(1), pages 27-50, Winter.
    2. Morris A. Davis & Michael G. Palumbo, 2006. "The price of residential land in large U.S. cities," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2006-25, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    3. Jeffrey R. Brown, 2007. "Rational and Behavioral Perspectives on the Role of Annuities in Retirement Planning," NBER Working Papers 13537, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. William Adams & Liran Einav & Jonathan Levin, 2007. "Liquidity Constraints and Imperfect Information in Subprime Lending," NBER Working Papers 13067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Edelberg, Wendy, 2006. "Risk-based pricing of interest rates for consumer loans," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(8), pages 2283-2298, November.
    6. Dynan, Karen E. & Elmendorf, Douglas W. & Sichel, Daniel E., 2006. "Can financial innovation help to explain the reduced volatility of economic activity?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 123-150, January.
    7. Kristopher Gerardi & Andreas Lehnert & Shane M. Sherlund & Paul Willen, 2008. "Making Sense of the Subprime Crisis," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 39(2 (Fall)), pages 69-159.
    8. Benjamin J. Keys & Tanmoy Mukherjee & Amit Seru & Vikrant Vig, 2010. "Did Securitization Lead to Lax Screening? Evidence from Subprime Loans," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 125(1), pages 307-362, February.
    9. Annamaria Lusardi & Peter Tufano, 2009. "Debt Literacy, Financial Experiences, and Overindebtedness," CeRP Working Papers 83, Center for Research on Pensions and Welfare Policies, Turin (Italy).
    10. Astrid Dick & Andreas Lehnert, 2007. "Personal bankruptcy and credit market competition," Staff Reports 272, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    11. Charles Himmelberg & Christopher Mayer & Todd Sinai, 2005. "Assessing High House Prices: Bubbles, Fundamentals, and Misperceptions," NBER Working Papers 11643, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Karen E. Dynan & Donald L. Kohn, 2007. "The rise in U.S. household indebtedness: causes and consequences," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-37, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    13. James W. Kolari & Donald R. Fraser & Ali Anari, 1998. "The Effects of Securitization on Mortgage Market Yields: A Cointegration Analysis," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 26(4), pages 677-693.
    14. Bucks, Brian & Pence, Karen, 2008. "Do borrowers know their mortgage terms?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 218-233, September.
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