An interesting assessment of Italian household debt levels in the context of over-indebtedness by D'Alessio, Giovanni and Iezzi, Stefano, (paper “Over-Indebtedness in Italy: How Widespread and Persistent is it?”. March 18, 2016, Bank of Italy Occasional Paper No. 319. http://ssrn.com/abstract=2772485).
Using the Eurosystem’s Household Finance and Consumption Survey (HFCS) the authors also compare the over-indebtedness of Italian households with that of other euro-area countries (Ireland, as usual, nowhere to be found, presumably because we don’t have data).
Here is a summary table for euro area households over-indebtedness:
Several things can be highlighted from this table:
- There is severe over-indebtedness in Spain (14.1%) and Slovenia (10%); serious over-indebtedness in the Netherlands (8.8%), Luxembourg (8.4%), and Portugal (8.2%)
- Demographically, those under 50 are the hardest hit. This would be normal, if the incidence of higher debt amongst younger generations was consistent with demographic profile of the country (younger countries - more over-indebtedness amongst younger generations). This is not the case.
- Overall, worst cross-country over-indebtedness problem occurs in 31-40 age group - the group of the most productive households who should be able to fund their debts from growing incomes.
- In 9 out of 13 countries covered, highest or second highest level of over-indebtedness accrues in “University Degree” holding sub-population.
- Self-employed are disproportionately hit by over-indebtedness problem compared to those in employment.
In simple terms, the above evidence can be consistent with sustained, decade-long transfers of wealth (via debt channel) from younger and middle-age generation to older generation (>50 years of age). System of taxation that induces higher volatility to incomes of self-employed compared to those in traditional employment might be another contributing factor.