Consumer bankruptcy scholars typically stress either a structural or a cultural account of individuals' problems with debt. Drawing on the history of poverty research, this article argues that research on consumer overindebtedness and bankruptcy should avoid the pitfall of seeing structural and cultural factors as opposing explanations. Deregulation of the credit industry and an incomplete social safety net are key structural conditions that lead to a culture hospitable to overindebtedness. Furthermore, the interaction of structure and culture has practical policy implications. Structural changes such as interest-rate deregulation inevitably transform both business and consumer culture. Policies designed to create a different consumer culture will have a hard time when pitted against strong structural causes of overindebtedness. At a minimum, efforts to create a culture of personal financial responsibility need a strong structural base, such as public education starting at a young age, and could easily require a generation or more to take hold.
ASJC Scopus subject areas