Bank of England Working Paper Series
June 1, 2005
Household indebtedness has risen sharply in recent years, with large increases in both secured and unsecured borrowing. In this paper, waves 5 and 10 of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) for 1995 and 2000 are used to examine the determinants of participation in the unsecured debt market and the amount borrowed. Probit models for participation are estimated and age, income, positive financial prospects and housing tenure are found to be very significant and have the expected sign according to a life-cycle model for consumption. Regressions to explain the level of borrowing by individuals suggest that income is the main variable explaining crosssectional differences in unsecured debts. The increase in aggregate unsecured debt between 1995 and 2000 does not seem to be closely linked to changes in the determinants of debt market participation and has been mainly associated with the larger amounts borrowed by those with debts. Increases in income, better educational qualifications and improved prospects regarding the financial situation contributed to this result. The major part of the overall increase in unsecured debt is not explained by variables at the individual level, but is accounted for by common, unmodelled macroeconomic factors.