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Financially Fragile Households: Evidence and Implications

  • Annamaria Lusardi

    ()

    (Dartmouth College and George Washington University School of Business)

  • Daniel Schneider

    ()

    (Princeton University)

  • Peter Tufano

    ()

    (Harvard Business School)

This paper examines households’ financial fragility by looking at their capacity to come up with $2,000 in 30 days. Using data from the 2009 TNS Global Economic Crisis survey, we document widespread financial weakness in the United States: Almost half of Americans report that they are incapable of coming-up with the funds necessary to deal with an ordinary financial shock. While financial fragility is more severe among those with low educational attainment and no financial education, families with children, those who suffered large wealth losses, and those who are unemployed, a sizable fraction of seemingly “middle class” Americans judge themselves to be financially fragile. We examine the coping methods people use to deal with shocks. While savings is used most often, relying on family and friends, using formal and alternative credit, increasing work hours, and selling items are also used frequently to deal with emergencies, especially for some subgroups. Household finance researchers must look beyond precautionary saving to understand how families cope with risk. We also find evidence of a pecking order of coping methods in which savings appears to be first in the ordering. Finally, the paper compares the levels of financial fragility and methods of coping among eight industrialized countries. While there are differences in coping ability across countries, there is general evidence of a consistent ordering of coping methods.

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Paper provided by Center for Research on Pensions and Welfare Policies, Turin (Italy) in its series CeRP Working Papers with number 116.

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Length: 55 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:crp:wpaper:116
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  1. Lusardi, Annamaria & Tufano, Peter, 2009. "Debt literacy, financial experiences, and overindebtedness," CFS Working Paper Series 2009/08, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  2. Asena Caner & Edward N. Wolff, 2004. "Asset Poverty In The United States, 1984-99: Evidence From The Panel Study Of Income Dynamics," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 50(4), pages 493-518, December.
  3. Melvin Stephens Jr., 2003. "The Consumption Response to Predictable Changes in Discretionary Income: Evidence from the Repayment of Vehicle Loans," NBER Working Papers 9976, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2005. "Consumption versus Expenditure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(5), pages 919-948, October.
  5. Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2001. "Choice, Chance, and Wealth Dispersion at Retirement," NBER Chapters, in: Aging Issues in the United States and Japan, pages 25-64 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Christopher D Carroll, 1990. "Buffer-Stock Saving and the Life Cycle/Permanent Income Hypothesis," Economics Working Paper Archive 371, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics, revised Aug 1996.
  7. Bertrand, Marianne & Karlan, Dean & Mullainathan, Sendhil & Shafir, Eldar & Zinman, Jonathan, 2009. "What's Advertising Content Worth? Evidence from a Consumer Credit Marketing Field Experiment," Working Papers 58, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  8. Annamaria Lusardi & Daniel J. Schneider & Peter Tufano, 2010. "The economic crisis and medical care usage," NBER Working Papers 15843, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Jonathan A. Parker & Nicholas S. Souleles & David S. Johnson & Robert McClelland, 2013. "Consumer Spending and the Economic Stimulus Payments of 2008," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2530-53, October.
  10. 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.
  11. Melvin Stephens Jr., 2003. ""3rd of tha Month": Do Social Security Recipients Smooth Consumption Between Checks?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 406-422, March.
  12. Melissa Schettini Kearney & Peter Tufano & Jonathan Guryan & Erik Hurst, 2010. "Making Savers Winners: An Overview of Prize-Linked Savings Products," NBER Working Papers 16433, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Martin Browning & Annamaria Lusardi, 1996. "Household Saving: Micro Theories and Micro Facts," Discussion Papers 96-01, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  14. Andrew C. Worthington, 2003. "Emergency finance in Australian households An empirical analysis of capacity and sources," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 163, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.
  15. Athreya, Kartik & Tam, Xuan S. & Young, Eric R., 2009. "Unsecured credit markets are not insurance markets," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 83-103, January.
  16. Nava Ashraf & Dean Karlan & Wesley Yin, 2006. "Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(2), pages 635-672, May.
  17. Chieffe, Natalie & Rakes, Ganas K., 1999. "An integrated model for financial planning," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 261-268.
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