Assets and Debt in American Lives: Findings from 50 Years of the National Longitudinal Surveys

Panel Paper at the 37th Annual APPAM Fall Research Conference

Saturday, November 14, 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM

Miami, Florida

Panel Organizers:  A. Rupa Datta, National Opinion Research Center
Panel Chairs:  David Johnson, Bureau of Economic Analysis

Discussants:  A. Rupa Datta, National Opinion Research Center

The magnitude and role of debt in American lives has varied substantially in the post-World War II period. These changes have motivated and reflected factors in the economy as a whole, as well as major policy initiatives in such diverse domains as housing, education, retirement savings, personal finance, and divorce law. The National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS) program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, is a unique resource in understanding the relationship of assets and debts to many aspects of individuals’ behavior, including physical and mental health, family formation, college-going, home ownership and employment. This panel observes the 50th anniversary of the NLS program by convening a discussion of what the NLS program can tell us about the changing nature of American debt and its effect on our society. Through exploration of new analyses and previously published work, the panel presents specific findings on the determinants and consequences of household debt, then reflects on the extent to which targeted policy changes affecting indebtedness can affect individuals’ lives much more broadly than is often considered in policy discussions.


50 Years of American Indebtedness and Policies That Have Shaped It

Charles Pierret, U.S. Department of Labor and A. Rupa Datta, National Opinion Research Center

Cross-Cohort Changes in Entry into First Marriage: Does Debt Matter, and Has This Association Changed over Time

Fenaba Addo, University of Wisconsin - Madison and Jason Houle, Dartmouth College

Determinants of Household Wealth at Age 50: Evidence from the NLSY79

Audrey Light, The Ohio State University and Kathleen McGarry, University of California, Los Angeles