The drivers of household indebtedness re-considered: an empirical evaluation of competing arguments on the macroeconomic determinants of household indebtedness in OECD countries

By Glennie Lauren Moore, Engelbert Stockhammer

PKES Working Paper 1803

February 2018

Household debt is at a record high in most OECD countries and it played a crucial role in the recent financial crisis. Several arguments on the macroeconomic drivers of household debt have been put forward, and most have been empirically tested, albeit in isolation of each other. This paper empirically tests seven competing hypotheses on the macroeconomic determinants of household indebtedness together in one econometric study. Existing arguments suggest that residential house prices, upward movements in the prices of assets demanded by households, the income share of the top 1%, falling wages, the rolling back of the welfare state, the age structure of the population and the short-term interest rate drive household indebtedness. We formulate these arguments as hypotheses and test them for a panel of 13 OECD countries over the period 1993 - 2011 using error correction models. We also investigate whether effects differ in boom and bust phases of the debt and house price cycles. The results show that the most robust macroeconomic determinant of household debt is real residential house prices, and that the phase of the debt and house price cycles plays a role in household debt accumulation.

Keywords: household debt, house prices, cycles

JEL classification: E19 E21 R20