American household debt hit a record $3 trillion dollars last year, shared between 300 million borrowers. The breed and extent of debt segmented amongst this demographic is principally beholden to age. According to the latest Survey of Consumer Finances report, the breakdown is as follows:
Under 35: $67,400
75 and up: $34,500
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Students loans and credit debt make of the majority of debt facing millennials. A recent Sofi survey reports that 83% of millennials feel that their student loan debt is keeping them from sleeping at night. A Bank of America survey published this year of 1,000 Americans found that 51% are worried about their finances- a worry energized by the fear of not having enough savings, the threat of a looming recession, and a perceived inability to mitigate their deepening debt.
Money, being such a structural part of any functioning society, has exceeded its right to govern class barriers, and has increasingly gained more ground in our collective psyche.
The psychology of debt
The Ascent Staff just released a new report surveying over 1,000 indebted Americans in an attempt to unpick the correlation between happiness, fulfillment, self-esteem, and financial distress. The authors report, “Of our respondents, 523 were female, 482 were male, and two did not identify as male or female. Our average respondent was 37 years old. To ensure that all respondents took our survey, all were required to identify and pass a carefully disguised attention-check question.”
Consumer debt has been surging for 17 consecutive quarters. With this in mind, the researchers began their query by discerning a potential cause, a mindset that might be ensuring these numbers keep rising in spite of the lurid results. It may very well be that a misguided association with money and well being might cow under-employed Americans to splurge beyond their means. So the experts posed the age-old question to their study group: “Can money buy happiness?”
Fifty-six percent of the respondents involved in the study said “to an extent,” 19% said “not really,” 17% said “absolutely yes,” and a modest 8% said, “not at all.”
Previously conducted research favors the respondents that offered a sober yes as it turns out. It should be noted that even though there was some ambivalence surrounding the key question: Can money buy happiness?” The majority of respondents (63%) believed that wealthy people were indeed happier than people of lower income. This estimation is likely conditioned towards improvised or oppressed individuals that come into financial security later in life.
A study conducted on residents in rural Zambia found that women who received monthly money transfers exhibited a boost to overall well-being, specifically as it related to their children’s mental state, health, and future prospects.
Most of the respondents in the new study seemed to demarcate financial status with debt in particular, perceiving the latter much more bleakly. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said they would be happier if they were free of their debt. Forty-eight percent believed that their debt hindered their optimism, 47% felt that their debt adversely impacted their self-esteem, and an additional 43% reported debt affecting their sense of direction. In a less philosophical sense, the majority of respondents agreed that their debt made it harder for them to save money for their future, occasionally treat themselves, live their desired lifestyle, pursue their passions and interests and donate to important charities and causes.
All of these toxic factors coalesce into one giant mass, occupying the greater half of the American psychosis. Seventy-one percent of respondents said that they think about debt a lot more than they’d like to, which leads many to submit to relentless shame and self-loathing. Forty-percent of people with debt has either lied or actively hid it from others at least once.
Good and bad debt
Different kinds of debt seemed to carry different degrees of stress and anxiety. After all, there is such a thing as “good debt.” Good debt is defined as a calculated investment that is expected to grow in value, generate income or provide some kind of comfort at some point in the future. It thus stands to reason that those with mortgages, which serves as a standard of good debt as you could conceive, proved to be the most satisfied of all the debt holders studied.
Interestingly enough, however, the other classic good debt exemplar, student loans, yielded some of the least satisfied participants, coming second only to people with medical loans. Medical debt was the only category that housed a healthy percentage of people being unable to make the minimum amount of payments, as 42% expressed being unable to do so.
In regards to the ignominy brought on by debt, the authors conclude, “If you’re in debt, it can feel overwhelming — like you’re carrying the weight of your loans on your shoulders, metered out in gold bars. Whenever your mind ends up wandering to dark places, just remember that debt is ageless, faceless, and genderless: Hundreds of millions of Americans are currently walking around with some form of debt.”