Sunday, May 8, 2016

7/5/16: Households Over-Indebtedness in the Euro Area

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.

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:

  1. 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%)
  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. 
  3. 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.
  4. In 9 out of 13 countries covered, highest or second highest level of over-indebtedness accrues in “University Degree” holding sub-population.
  5. 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.

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