Understanding debt, inequality and consumption behavior: The U.S. in the 2000s

Project Summary:

The level of private debt in the U.S. economy rose considerably during the 2000s. This research will investigate how much of that increase was due to the weak job growth of that decade. If the debt run-up was due to consumers’ borrowing to cover necessities after a job loss, the policy implications are quite different than if it were due to reckless consumer spending. This research will also look at how debt was distributed across the population by age, race, and income, and how that distribution changed during the 2000s. A better understanding of the causes of increased debt and knowing who increased their debt load the most will help us better understand the importance of savings and the relationship between consumer demand and economic growth.


Ethan Kaplan is Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining the department, he had previously been an Assistant Professor of Economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University. Kaplan’s main area of research is empirical political economy and applied micro-econometrics. His research has focused on media economics, the determination and persistence of political preferences, interest group behavior, and the political economy of U.S. intervention. More recently, in addition to his research on political economy, he has started a sequence of projects using applied micro-econometric techniques to investigate macroeconomic questions.

Kaplan received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in development economics from Stanford University, and a B.A. with high honors in history from the University of California, Berkeley.