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What, me worry? Young adults get self-esteem boost from debt

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  • What, me worry? Young adults get self-esteem boost from debt

    June 6, 2011

    Instead of feeling stressed by the money they owe, many young adults actually feel empowered by their credit card and education debts, according to a new nationwide study.

    Researchers found that the more credit card and college loan debt held by young adults aged 18 to 27, the higher their self-esteem and the more they felt like they were in control of their lives. The effect was strongest among those in the lowest economic class.

    Only the oldest of those studied – those aged 28 to 34 – began showing signs of stress about the money they owed.

    "Debt can be a good thing for young people – it can help them achieve goals that they couldn't otherwise, like a college education," said Rachel Dwyer, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

    But the results offer some worrying signs about how many young people view debt, she added.

    "Debt can be a positive resource for young adults, but it comes with some significant dangers," Dwyer said.

    "Young people seem to view debt mostly in just positive terms rather than as a potential burden."

    Dwyer conducted the study with Randy Hodson, professor of sociology at Ohio State, and Laura McCloud, an Ohio State graduate now at Pacific Lutheran University.

    The findings appear in a recent issue of the journal Social Science Research.

    The study involved 3,079 young adults who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 – Young Adults sample. The NLSY interviews the same nationally representative group of Americans every two years. It is conducted by Ohio State's Center for Human Resource Research on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    For this study, the researchers examined data on two types of debt: loans taken out to pay for college, and total credit-card debt. They looked at how both forms of debt were related to people's self-esteem and sense of mastery – their belief that they were in control of their life, and that they had the ability to achieve their goals.

    Researchers have had two competing views of how debt might affect people's self-concept, Dwyer said. Some have said debt should have positive effects because it helps people invest in their future. Others have said credit should have negative effects because it allows people to spend more money than they make, thereby risking their future.

    "We thought educational debt might be seen as a positive because it is an investment in their future, while credit card debt could be viewed more negatively," Dwyer said.

    "Surprisingly, though, we found that both kinds of debt had positive effects for young people. It didn't matter the type of debt, it increased their self-esteem and sense of mastery."

    Some young people may be using credit card debt to help finance their college education – for items like textbooks -- which is why they may see it as a positive, she said. But there is no way to know that from the data.

    "Obviously, they are probably using credit cards for multiple purposes. Along with education spending, they could be using credit cards to pay for non-essential items. They may feel good about their debt only because it allows them to buy the things they want without having to delay gratification."

    But how debt affected young people depended on what other financial resources they had available, the study found.

    Results showed that those in the bottom 25 percent in total family income got the largest boost from holding debt – the more debt they held, both education and credit card, the bigger the positive impact on their self-esteem and mastery.

    Those in the middle class didn't see any impact on their self-esteem and mastery by holding educational debt, perhaps because it is so common among their peers that it is seen as normal. But they did see boosts from holding credit-card debt – the more debt, the more positive effects.

    On the other hand, the study found that young adults who came from the most affluent families received no boost at all from holding debt.

    "The wealthiest young people have the most resources and options available to them, so debt is not an issue for them," Dwyer said.

    "The groups that most need the debt – the middle and lower classes – get the most benefits to their self-concept, but may also face the greatest difficulties in paying off what they owe."

    The oldest people in the study, those over age 28, were just starting to feel the stress of their debt, according to Dwyer.

    For these young adults, having education debt is still associated with higher self-esteem and mastery, compared to those who don't have any such debt. That suggests they still see some benefits to investing in a college degree.

    But the amount of education debt mattered – having higher levels of debt actually reduced their sense of self-esteem and mastery.

    "By age 28, they may be realizing that they overestimated how much money they were going to earn in their jobs. When they took out the loans, they may have thought they would pay off their debts easily, and it is turning out that it is not as easy as they had hoped," she said.

    Overall, Dwyer said the results suggest that debt can be an important resource for young adults that allow them to make investments that improve their self-concept. But the results may also have troubling implications for the future of young people.

    "Debt may make young people feel better about themselves in the short-term, but that doesn't mean it won't have negative consequences in the long term," she said.

    "We found that the positive effects may wear off over time, but they still have to pay the bills. The question is whether they will be able to. There needs to be additional research to answer this question."
    Filed/discharged/closed Chapter 7 in 2010!

  • #2
    Originally posted by IHateToBeEmo View Post
    "Young people seem to view debt mostly in just positive terms rather than as a potential burden."
    I wish I had figured it out while I was still young. I didn't see debt as a burden until I was hovering close to bankruptcy. By then it was too late.
    Filed Chapter 7 July 2010
    Attended 341 September 2010
    Discharged November 2010 Closed November 2010


    • #3
      I knew at the time racking up consumer debt wasn't very smart, but like most people I stupidly felt that my income will always go up a proportionate amount, so I can maintain the debt and reality set in that it wasn't going to happen.

      Salaries always lag inflation which is why I feel in this decade we will see a tsunami of bankruptcies.

      Most wages haven't kept up with inflation so these "young adults" will eventually realize it and walk away too.
      The essence of freedom is the proper limitation of Government


      • #4
        This is why you hear so much talk about "confidence". People without "confidence" won't go (further) into debt, which they need to keep the economy alive.
        filed chapter 13..confirmed...converted to chapter 7...DISCHARGED!


        • #5
          ""Debt can be a good thing for young people – it can help them achieve goals that they couldn't otherwise, like a college education," said Rachel Dwyer, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University."

          I feel sorry for this so called professor's students. What good is going tens of thousands of dollars into debt for a degree, when the graduate can't even find a job in order to pay back the debt he or she used to acquire the degree in the first place?

          I use to feel a sense of pride, because I had a high credit limit prior to actually using it. Once, I inspired to acquire an American Express Black Card. Now I know "the hard way". Self Esteem should come from accumulating "NET WORTH" not DEBT!!!


          • #6
            Yeah, I am part of the 28-34 and stressed out crowd. This article has it all wrong - I don't think those younger feel 'empowered' by their debt, they are just too naive to realize that in a few years they will have the same debt, plus interest and no better a chance at a job than they did 5 years ago/pre-degree... Student loan debt will be the burden of my generation.


            • #7
              Exactly. The only one who's the winner is the professor, because as long as students keep believing his deceptive garbage, he will continue to get paid, because those students are racking up all that debt to attend the school in which he teaches.


              • #8
                "Only the oldest of those studied – those aged 28 to 34 – began showing signs of stress about the money they owed."
                exactly, now i am becoming old, i realize the stress of debt. I am trying to give back the money as soon as possiple.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Shanfish View Post
                  no better a chance at a job than they did 5 years ago/pre-degree... Student loan debt will be the burden of my generation.
                  I think that it depends on what your degree is in. For me, it was my degree that got me my job. Accounting is a field that people need, even in times of a recession and a slow recovery (which is what we are in right now).

                  I do not regret my student loans (and it was paid off several years ago). Without it, I would not have been able to get my degree and without my degree, I wouldn't have gotten a job as fast as I did when my ex and I split up. The degree also helps me to earn a lot more than minimum wage. But I also didn't go to an expensive school. But I do agree that student loans are a burden recently as college costs have skyrocketed. Which makes working through college and paying for as much as you can a good way to go. And choosing a major where you have a better chance of making more money and getting a job faster. My cousin is learning this one the hard way(her major is really obscure). At least she doesn't have the school loans to worry about as she went to school on full scholarships. Her brother has the same deal, except that he went into law.

                  I don't think that young people have as much to worry about, they will be hired before the more experienced and more expensive older person. But they do need to learn that going to school full-time and not working at all to pay living expenses may not be the best plan.


                  • #10
                    Everyone feels empowered when they can put their signature on paper and get money/goods/services in exchange.
                    It's the deadly hangover when the money/goods/services are consumed, and the debt remains, which truly sucks.
                    filed chapter 13..confirmed...converted to chapter 7...DISCHARGED!


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