Greater inequality and household borrowing? New evidence from household data
Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Marianna Kudlyak, John Mondragon 29 January 2014
One popular explanation for the increase in US household debt in the years before the subprime mortgage crisis is that households with stagnating incomes borrowed more to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. This column presents recent research that questions this explanation. Low-income households in high-inequality regions in fact borrowed relatively little compared to similar households in low-inequality regions. A theoretical model in which greater local income inequality facilitates the screening of loan applicants makes predictions that are consistent with the data.
The financial crisis of 2008–09 was preceded by an exceptional rise in borrowing by US households, accounted for primarily by a rise in mortgage debt. There are two main views about the source of this ‘great leveraging’:
- The rise in borrowing reflected ‘credit supply’ factors.
Proponents point to progress in information technology (Sanchez 2009) and rising financialisation of debt (especially mortgages) as increasing the supply of credit, particularly to low-income and high-risk households (Drozd and Serrano-Padial 2013).
Financial markets Poverty and income inequality
US, Inequality, debt, credit rationing, subprime mortgage crisis