The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
The paper studies how high household leverage and crises can arise as a result of changes in the income distribution. Empirically, the periods 1920-1929 and 1983-2008 both exhibited a large increase in the income share of high-income households, a large increase in debt leverage of the remainder, and an eventual financial and real crisis. The paper presents a theoretical model where higher leverage and crises arise endogenously in response to a growing income share of high-income households. The model matches the profiles of the income distribution, the debt-to-income ratio and crisis risk for the three decades prior to the Great Recession.