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Young Adults Sometimes See Debt as a Positive

THURSDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) -- Debt may actually give some young adults a self-esteem boost, a new study suggests.

Ohio State University researchers looked at 3,079 young adults and found that, among those aged 18 to 27, having more credit card and college loan debt was generally linked with higher levels of self-esteem and a greater feeling of being in control of their lives.

"We thought educational debt might be seen as a positive because it is an investment in their future, while credit card debt could be viewed more negatively," lead author Rachel Dwyer, an assistant professor of sociology, said in a university news release. "Surprisingly, though, we found that both kinds of debt had positive effects for young people. It didn't matter the type of debt, it increased their self-esteem and sense of mastery."

The association between debt and improved self-esteem was strongest among those from families with the lowest incomes, whereas those from the most affluent families gained no self-esteem boost from having debt, according to the study, recently published in Social Science Research.

"The wealthiest young people have the most resources and options available to them, so debt is not an issue for them," Dwyer said. "The groups that most need the debt -- the middle and lower classes -- get the most benefits to their self-concept but may also face the greatest difficulties in paying off what they owe."

The researchers also found that signs of stress about having debt started to become evident in the oldest participants, those 28 to 34 years old.

"By age 28, they may be realizing that they overestimated how much money they were going to earn in their jobs," Dwyer said. "When they took out the loans, they may have thought they would pay off their debts easily, and it is turning out that it is not as easy as they had hoped."

For the study, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the researchers relied on interviews conducted on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More information

For people who do find debt and other money woes worrisome, the American Psychological Association has information on handling stress in tough economic times.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, June 6, 2011

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