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The rise in U.S. household indebtedness: causes and consequences

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  • Karen E. Dynan
  • Donald L. Kohn

Abstract

The ratio of total household debt to aggregate personal income in the United States has risen from an average of 0.6 in the 1980s to an average of 1.0 so far this decade. In this paper we explore the causes and consequences of this dramatic increase. Demographic shifts, house price increases, and financial innovation all appear to have contributed to the rise. Households have become more exposed to shocks to asset prices through the greater leverage in their balance sheets, and more exposed to unexpected changes in income and interest rates because of higher debt payments relative to income. At the same time, an increase in access to credit and higher levels of assets should give households, on average, a greater ability to smooth through shocks. We conclude by discussing some of the risks associated with some households having become very highly indebted relative to their assets.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2007-37
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    Cited by:

    1. Kenc, Turalay & Dibooglu, Sel, 2010. "The 2007-2009 financial crisis, global imbalances and capital flows: Implications for reform," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 3-21, March.
    2. Matthew J. Eichner & Donald L. Kohn & Michael G. Palumbo, 2010. "Financial statistics for the United States and the crisis: what did they get right, what did they miss, and how should they change?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2010-20, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    3. Fligstein, Neil & Goldstein, Adam, 2012. "The Emergence of a Finance Culture in American Households, 1989-2007," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt6vp6p588, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    4. Guiso, Luigi & Sodini, Paolo, 2013. "Household Finance: An Emerging Field," Handbook of the Economics of Finance, Elsevier.
    5. Kim, Hyun Jeong & Lee, Dongyeol & Son, Jong Chil & Son, Min Kyu, 2014. "Household indebtedness in Korea: Its causes and sustainability," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 29(C), pages 59-76.
    6. Douglas Sutherland & Peter Hoeller, 2012. "Debt and Macroeconomic Stability: An Overview of the Literature and Some Empirics," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1006, OECD Publishing.
    7. Bruno Albuquerque & Ursel Baumann & Georgi Krustev, 2014. "Has US Household Deleveraging Ended? A Model-Based Estimate of Equilibrium Debt," Working Papers w201404, Banco de Portugal, Economics and Research Department.
    8. Karen E. Dynan, 2009. "Changing Household Financial Opportunities and Economic Security," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(4), pages 49-68, Fall.

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    Keywords

    Consumer credit ; Debt - United States;

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