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Social Determinants of Debt Problems in a Nordic Welfare State: a Finnish Register-Based Study


Many developed Western countries have seen rapid rises in personal debt and consumer credit during recent decades. Debt problems have become a widely recognized and common concern. This study analysed debt problems among the Finnish adult population from 2005 to 2013. Previous research on indebtedness and financial problems has relied on surveys, and studies using precise, register-based information about the most excluded social groups are needed. The primary data were based on a nationally representative random sample of 91 931 Finnish residents aged 19 to 65. The data contained information from several administrative registers, including information about debt enforcement. Low socioeconomic status, male gender, age, marital status, number of children, and prior criminal convictions were associated with debt problems. Income was not associated with the amount of outstanding private receivables, indicating that debt problems do not only boil down to social stratification and poverty. The younger age group had a higher prevalence of debt problems and higher amounts of both private and public receivables. Low levels of education predicted both higher prevalence of debt problems and higher amounts of outstanding receivables. The results underline the importance of understanding the social mechanisms of financial behaviour.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    A two-step Heckman estimator, or type 2 Tobit model, produced largely (in terms of coefficient signs and significances) similar results as the Poisson model, but the predicted level of debt was closer to the true average in the Poisson model.


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Correspondence to Atte Oksanen.

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Oksanen, A., Aaltonen, M. & Rantala, K. Social Determinants of Debt Problems in a Nordic Welfare State: a Finnish Register-Based Study. J Consum Policy 38, 229–246 (2015).

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  • Over-indebtedness
  • Debt enforcement
  • Financial problems
  • SES
  • Social exclusion
  • Consumption
  • Consumer credit