By Pru Cox, John Whitley and Peter Brierley of the Bank's Domestic Finance Division.
Household indebtedness has risen rapidly in relation to incomes in recent years. But aggregate data cannot indicate which types of households-by age, income or wealth-have accumulated the most debts. This article uses information from the latest British Household Panel Survey (for the year 2000) to provide some evidence on that issue. The survey suggests that debt-to-income ratios vary widely across households. The youngest and lowest - income households increased their debt-to-income ratios by most-and from the highest levels - between 1995 and 2000. But the households with the highest absolute levels of debts tended also to have the highest incomes and net wealth in both years. A large proportion of this wealth was held in housing assets. Such households did not, however, hold substantially more liquid assets than less indebted households. Although households were relatively sanguine about their higher levels of debt, that confidence could be eroded if circumstances deteriorated. Overall, changes in the distribution of household debt in recent years suggest that the household sector may be somewhat more vulnerable to an adverse shock than the aggregate measures indicate.