The Emergence of a Finance Culture in American Households, 1989-2007
As the financial economy has expanded beginning in the mid 1980s, it has done so in part by selling more products to individuals and households, such as mortgages, second mortgages, mutual funds, student loans, car loans, insurance, and various forms of retirement products. This has allowed households access to new forms of assets and debts and new ways to fund their lifestyles. This giant expansion of the financial services sector occurred at the same time that income inequality and job insecurity increased dramatically in the U.S. This paper seeks to tease out empirically the relationship between these trends by examining data on the activities of households in the past 20 years. There are two views, one that focuses on how households reacted defensively to preserve their lifestyles and the other which focuses on households developing a more financial mindset to the management of their assets, debt, and consumption and thereby using the new opportunities to invest and borrow money to increase their consumption. We show some support for both views. The use of financial products and debt has increased at all levels of the income distribution. Attitudes toward risk and indebtedness have generally become more lax. But, there is also evidence that people at the top of the income distribution are using their growing income to consume more while people lower down are struggling to keep up. The meaning of new financial culture is quite different depending on where you stand in the income hierarchy.
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