In recent years, the size of household debt in China has grown rapidly, accompanied by many typical economic and social phenomena in which households are heavily affected by liabilities, such as " house slaves” and " car slaves”. That is, the borrowing behavior may have brought tremendous pressure on Chinese households. These phenomena caused by household debt seem to be consistent with household decision-making affected by traditional culture: under the traditional culture led by Chinese Confucianism, households tend to make ends meet, and borrowing is a last resort. However, the classic theory of intertemporal consumption asserts that household borrowing is used to smooth consumption, and predicts that the increase in liabilities will better smooth intertemporal consumption and help to improve family welfare. The inconsistency between the above observation and the prediction of the classical theory motivates us to ask the following questions: What are the driving factors and the consequences of the Chinese household borrowing behavior? What is the economic mechanism behind it? This paper uses the China Family Panel Studies （CFPS） 2010−2014 panel data to empirically examine the borrowing behavior of Chinese households. Motivated by the observation that China’s household consumption debt constitutes the main part of household debt, we employ the analytical framework where household borrowing is driven by expenditures, and linear and nonlinear panel data models to identify the driving factors and impacts of the borrowing of urban and rural residents, and explore the underlying economic mechanism. We find that the borrowing behavior exhibits an inverted U-shaped pattern over the family life cycle, and the highest debt occurs in households with a family head of 30−34 years old. The ownership of housing and the durable consumption significantly increase household debt whereas the education consumption and/or health care consumption significantly decrease household debt. Further examinations demonstrate the heterogeneity of the household borrowing behavior: on the one hand, the borrowing exhibits conservative propensity in that households with higher medical consumption and education consumption have stronger saving motivation, which is consistent with the prediction that household borrowing is affected by Chinese traditional culture; on the other hand, households tend to smoothen durable consumption through borrowing, which is consistent with the prediction of the classical theory. There is no evidence that household borrowing faces significant financial exclusion. Further tests find that borrowing harms the welfare of households measured by the depression level of the head of households while housing consumption significantly reduces the welfare. This result suggests that the pressure of " house slaves” is prominent. The sum of the negative welfare effect of household borrowing driven by purchasing cars and the direct positive welfare effect of owning cars is not significantly different from zero, suggesting that the pressure of " car slaves” is not significant in the sample family of the CFPS survey. These findings deliver an important policy implication that depending on the types of household consumption, different credit policies should be employed. Specifically, it is desirable to implement policies to strengthen housing price supervision and tighten real estate credit; the relevant credit policies and micro-market mechanisms should be used to stimulate the consumption of durable goods; and public education and related support policies should be used to change the consumption ideas of Chinese households. We contribute to the literature in two aspects. Firstly, we identify the heterogeneity of the Chinese household borrowing behavior in the main driving factors and the consequences. Secondly, and more importantly, rooted in the Chinese cultural background, this paper is among the first to explore the economic mechanism behind the household borrowing behavior in China.
An Analysis on Household Consumption-Fueled Borrowing in China
Journal of Finance and Economics Vol. 44, Issue 10, pp. 67 - 81 (2018) DOI:10.16538/j.cnki.jfe.2018.10.005
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Cite this article
Zhu Wei, Xia Yuqing. An Analysis on Household Consumption-Fueled Borrowing in China[J]. Journal of Finance and Economics, 2018, 44(10): 67-81.
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