Impulsivity and household indebtedness: Evidence from real life
Using a probit model, we estimated the role of emotional factors in determining household participation in the debt market, after controlling for such traditional economic predictors as age, level of education, income, wealth, and work status. A sample of 445 Caucasian subjects selected among fulltime employees at international asset management companies underwent the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) while skin conductance was recorded, and a series of questions related to their demographic-socio-economic profile. Aside from confirming the role played by traditional explanatory variables commonly used as determinants of household indebtedness, results revealed the significant influence of individuals’ impulsivity in making debt decisions. Impulsivity predicted unsecured debt (i.e. consumer credit), but it was not significantly associated with secured debt (i.e. mortgages). Neither presence of a somatic marker to guide decisions nor performance at the IGT predicted real-life indebtedness decisions in this non-clinical sample. The notion that “non-rational” factors influence debt demand has been largely ignored and raises concerns about the risk of over-indebtedness for impulsive individuals.
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