Who Bears the Cost of Recessions? The Role of House Prices and Household Debt

60 Pages Posted: 24 May 2016 Last revised: 2 Mar 2018

See all articles by Atif R. Mian

Atif R. Mian

Princeton University - Department of Economics; Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; NBER

Amir Sufi

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; NBER

Date Written: May 2016

Abstract

This chapter reviews empirical estimates of differential income and consumption growth across individuals during recessions. Most existing studies examine the variation in income and consumption growth across individuals by sorting on ex ante or contemporaneous income or consumption levels. We build on this literature by showing that differential shocks to household net worth coming from elevated household debt and the collapse in house prices play an underappreciated role. Using zip codes in the United States as the unit of analysis, we show that the decline in numerous measures of consumption during the Great Recession was much larger in zip codes that experienced a sharp decline in housing net worth. In the years prior to the recession, these same zip codes saw high house price growth, a substantial expansion of debt by homeowners, and high consumption growth. We discuss what models seem most consistent with this striking pattern in the data, and we highlight the increasing body of macroeconomic evidence on the link between household debt and business cycles. Our main conclusion is that housing and household debt should play a larger role in models exploring the importance of household heterogeneity on macroeconomic outcomes and policies.

Suggested Citation

Mian, Atif R. and Sufi, Amir, Who Bears the Cost of Recessions? The Role of House Prices and Household Debt (May 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22256. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2783171

Atif R. Mian (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

NBER

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Amir Sufi

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

NBER

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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