Debt is in Your Genes

Economists have been telling us for years that American consumers are in debt and that the average household debt continues to rise at a rapid pace. According to the Federal Reserve, (as cited on, the average credit card debt per household with credit card debt is $15,788 and the total U.S. consumer debt as of March 2010 is $2.45 trillion. To top that off, the U.S. credit card 60-day delinquency rate is 4.27 percent and the U.S. credit card default rate hovers around 13.01 percent.

So what does all this have to do with the average American Biotechnologist? According to a recent study published in the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) scientists have recently discovered that one’s propensity for credit card debt may partially be a function of genetics. According to the authors, individuals with a polymorphism of the Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene that has lower transcriptional efficiency are significantly more likely to report having credit card debt. Furthermore, having one or both MAOA alleles of the low efficiency type raises the average likelihood of having credit card debt by 7.8% and 15.9% respectively.

Monoamine oxidase A, also known as MAOA, is an enzyme which in humans is encoded by the MAOA gene. Monoamine oxidase A is an isozyme of monoamine oxidase. It preferentially deaminates norepinephrine (noradrenaline), epinephrine (adrenaline), serotonin, and dopamine (dopamine is equally deaminated by MAO-A and MAO-B). It is inhibited by clorgiline and befloxatone. (source: Wikipedia)

The story has also been highlighted in a recent issue of Scientific American and can be be seen here.

Reference: De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel and Fowler, James H., The MAOA Gene Predicts Credit Card Debt (January 27, 2010). Available at SSRN:

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One Response to “Debt is in Your Genes”

  1. Michele says:

    Correlation is not the same as cause and effect.

    And where are the geneticist authors on this paper that claims to “present the first evidence of a specific gene that may influence borrowing behavior”?

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