NEW YORK —
The crisis also taught them about the dangers of debt.
After the crisis hit, Jerry and Madeleine Bosco of Tujunga, Calif., found themselves facing $30,000 in credit card bills with no easy way to pay the debt off. So they sold stocks, threw most of their cards in the trash, and stopped eating out and taking vacations.
Today, most of the debt is gone, but the lusher life of the boom years is a distant memory. "We had credit cards and we didn't worry about a thing," says Madeleine, 55.
In the U.S., debt per adult soared 54 percent in the five years before the crisis. Then it plunged, down 12 percent in 4 ½ years, although most of that resulted from people defaulting on loans. In the U.K., debt per adult fell a modest 2 percent, but it had jumped 59 percent before the crisis.
Even Japanese and Germans, who weren't big borrowers in the years before the crisis, cut debt — 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
"We don't want to take out a loan," says Maria Schoenberg, 45, of Frankfurt, Germany, explaining why she and her husband, a rheumatologist, decided to rent after a recent move instead of borrowing to buy. "We're terrified of doing that."
Such attitudes are rife when it has rarely been cheaper to borrow around the world.
"A whole new generation of adults has come of age in a time of diminished expectations," says Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest U.S. bank. "They're not likely to take on debt like those before them."
Or spend as much.
After adjusting for inflation, Americans increased their spending in the five years after the crisis at one-quarter the rate before the crisis, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. French spending barely budged. In the U.K., spending dropped. The British spent 3 percent less last year than they did five years earlier, in 2007.