The Origins of America’s Debt Culture

The Origins of America’s Debt Culture

“By the end of the 1950s, a whopping two-thirds of American households were saddled by some type of debt.”

The mid-twentieth century was really the origin of America’s culture of debt. Prior to that time, debt was looked upon as enslaving and even shameful. It was only by the clever crafting of debt as an entitlement that Americans embraced credit wholeheartedly.

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In the twenties, the installment plan opened the door to debt since it facilitated the buying of so many of the cars, televisions, furniture, and other appliances found in the American home, the new nerve center of consumption. The financing of the home itself through mortgage debt made Americans comfortable with the idea of debt in general.


In his book, Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy, author James A. Roberts explains that “In the period spanning 1929 to 1955, Americans spent approximately six times more on personal loans while installment borrowing increased from $3.1 billion to $29 billion. By the end of the 1950s, a whopping two-thirds of American households were saddled by some type of debt.”

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