A research team from Oregon State University, in partnership Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord of France, has conducted a study of a group of middle class American families to learn more about how children view credit cards. When credit cards were first coming into the general market, the majority of American consumers were uneasy about even applying for a credit card account, let alone credit card using even in an emergency.

However, today, young consumers can hardly imagine making a moderate to large purchase without swiping a credit card. The study suggests that young American consumers love their credit cards.

The majority of young people who participated in the survey believed that their attitude towards credit cards developed from how their parents have handled credit cards to the extent that the report says older consumers have “enabled” the younger generation by promoting credit cards as a financial safety net.

Michelle Barhart of Oregon State University commented that this attitude towards credit card borrowing could have been one of the driving factors in the recent economic recession.

Although she did concede that there are also many other contributing factors which led to an economic downturn for the entire country. The most obvious being that a total dependency on credit cards is the “American way” so when things go wrong consumers have no place else to turn.

The study also showed that American consumers do not have enough knowledge about how to manage credit cards and other debts effectively. Over half of the young consumers surveyed had unmanaged debts while 30% were actively being pursued by a collection agency for nonpayment.

Most admitted that they incorrectly believed that being approved for credit meant they were considered able to take on the debt. However, as the survey dealt with entire families rather than just the younger consumers, it was encouraging to note that American consumers seem to grow wiser as they get older and their incomes increased. Older consumers proved more likely to pay credit card balances off in full each month.

The survey was carried out as part of National Financial Literacy Month, which aims to teach American consumers how to take control of their personal finances. Consumers are encouraged to take time to improve their financial literacy which, as highlighted by this study, will allow us to teach the next generation of consumers how to better control credit card debt.