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Household Debt and Aggregate Consumption Expenditures

  • Robert G. Murphy


    (Boston College)

This paper shows that the debt burden of households, as measured by the debt service to income ratio, is helpful in forecasting the future growth of consumer spending. Not only is the debt-service ratio a statistically significant predictor of future spending growth, it also explains about as much of the variation in spending growth as many other commonly used indicators. And when combined with other economic indicators, the debt-service ratio still provides incremental predictive power. The debt-service ratio predicts future spending growth in part because it helps predict future income growth for borrowing-constrained households, but also because it directly affects spending growth. I argue that this direct effect reflects a tightening of lending standards by financial institutions following a rise in the debt burden of households. This direct effect is important for spending on durable goods and services, but virtually nonexistent for spending on nondurable goods. Because almost 70 percent of spending on nondurable goods represents purchases of food and clothing (which are less discretionary than purchases of durables and services), I conclude that my results are consistent with the view that borrowing-constrained households will limit their discretionary purchases when faced with a tightening of credit.

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Paper provided by Boston College Department of Economics in its series Boston College Working Papers in Economics with number 386.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: 30 Oct 1997
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as "Household Debt and Consumer Spending," Business Economics, 1998, 33, 38-42
Handle: RePEc:boc:bocoec:386
Contact details of provider: Postal: Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill MA 02467 USA
Phone: 617-552-3670
Fax: +1-617-552-2308
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  1. Karen E. Dynan, 1993. "How prudent are consumers?," Working Paper Series / Economic Activity Section 135, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Christopher D. Carroll, 1992. "The Buffer-Stock Theory of Saving: Some Macroeconomic Evidence," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 23(2), pages 61-156.
  3. Hall, Robert E, 1978. "Stochastic Implications of the Life Cycle-Permanent Income Hypothesis: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(6), pages 971-87, December.
  4. Christopher D. Carroll, 1996. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," NBER Working Papers 5788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. John Y. Campbell & N. Gregory Mankiw, 1987. "Permanent Income, Current Income, and Consumption," NBER Working Papers 2436, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Dynan, Karen E, 1993. "How Prudent Are Consumers?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(6), pages 1104-13, December.
  7. Carroll, Christopher D & Fuhrer, Jeffrey C & Wilcox, David W, 1994. "Does Consumer Sentiment Forecast Household Spending? If So, Why?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1397-1408, December.
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