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New Study Shines Light on Effect of Debt on Happiness

Study Shines Light on Debt & Happiness

While money can lead to happiness, a new study notes that a person’s level of debt should also be considered in the money-happiness equation.

“There has been a lot of research looking at whether and how income makes people happy in life, but few studies have examined whether debt can detract from happiness. We found that carrying student loan debt is almost as important as income in predicting financial worry and life satisfaction,” said Dr. Louis Tay, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, who studies the effects of income and money on happiness.

The study is based on data from the Gallup-Purdue Index, which provides a measure of how college graduates are doing on five key dimensions of well-being: purpose, social, physical, financial, and community.

An online alumni sample of 2,781 individuals from the United States was used in Tay’s study. On average, these individuals graduated from college in 2008 and had been paying student loans for at least seven years.

In addition to demographic data, Tay’s analysis looked at the relationships between average household income, student loan amount, life satisfaction, and financial worry.

“We always think about how much income you can earn, but the reality is you can’t guarantee what you will earn post-college,” Tay said. “There is a lot in the news about reducing, balancing or managing college student debt, and this study shows the burden it can take on one’s life for the long term.”

Personal and household debt is a concern for many Americans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that household debt has increased from $8.29 trillion in 2004 to $12.29 trillion in 2016.

Tay notes future studies will need to look at other sources of debt, as well as the role of “good” debt vs. “bad” debt, among the various kinds of debt, such as a mortgage, student loans, or credit cards.

“How student loans are categorized for the long-term would be interesting,” Tay said. “For example, to what extent is it viewed as an investment, and does that vary among careers?”

The study was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Source: Purdue University

Study Shines Light on Debt & Happiness

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Study Shines Light on Debt & Happiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 29 Oct 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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