The economic psychology of consumer debt.

Lea, Stephen E. G. and Webley, Paul and Levine, R. M. (1993) The economic psychology of consumer debt. Journal of Economic Psychology, 14 (1). pp. 85-119.

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Questionnaires were distributed to groups of people with either no debt, mild debt, or serious debt to a public utility company. Serious debtors were found to differ from the Non-debtor group on economic, sociological, and psychological variables: economic resources, economic need, social support, attitude forming variables and attitudes all made independent contributions to the prediction of group membership and the extent of self-reported debt. Mild debtors were generally intermediate between Non-debtors and Serious debtors. Debt was strongly correlated with economic factors. Many results indicated that debt is a consequence of adverse family economic conditions: Serious debtors were of lower socioeconomic class, had lower incomes, were less likely to own their own homes (and much less likely to own them outright), had more children and were more likely to be single parents. They were also younger. Social and psychological factors were also found to be related to debt: Serious debtors were less likely to claim Nonconformist, Agnostic or Atheist religious views, and they had slightly more permissive attitudes towards debt, although no group showed a general tendency to approval of debt. They knew more other people who were in debt, and they were less likely to think that their friends or relations would disapprove if they knew they were in debt. Multivariate analyses showed that economic, social and psychological variables all had independent correlation with debt. These results suggest that debt is stronly influenced by adverse economic circumstances, but that social and psychological factors are also important. The conditions for the development of a self-sustaining ‘culture of debt’ do exist.

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Journal Article
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Journal of Economic Psychology
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31 Oct 2008 09:51
Last Modified:
18 Sep 2023 00:05