Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Marianna Kudlyak, John Mondragon, Wednesday, January 29, 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.