The impact of unsecured debt on financial distress among British households

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 12 May 2005

Working Paper No. 262
Ana Del-Río and Garry Young

This paper uses evidence from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) to examine how attitudes towards unsecured debt are related to household finances and other characteristics. An ordered-logit model is estimated for 1995 and 2000 using a self-reported indicator of financial distress as the dependent variable. This analysis suggests that the main factors causing debt problems are the unsecured debt-income ratio, the level of mortgage income gearing, the level of financial wealth of households, their health, ethnicity and marital status. While the proportion of households reporting debt problems did not change between 1995 and 2000, there were important shifts among different groups. In particular, more households in the youngest age group reported debt repayments were a heavy burden in 2000, while the opposite applies to the oldest age group where a smaller proportion of households than in 1995 reported debt was a heavy burden. These changes can largely be accounted for by the changing economic circumstances of these groups rather than an unrelated shift in attitudes. In particular, the increase in indebtedness of the young was the main factor accounting for their greater tendency to report debt problems.

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