How ’stressed’ are households with mortgages?

The Age this morning led with a story about record mortgage and rental ‘stress’:

THE number of Australians under financial stress from housing costs has soared to a historic high, with more than a million households now spending at least 30 per cent of their income on loan repayments or rent.

Adding fuel to a potentially explosive election issue, census figures show that the number of households officially declared under “mortgage stress” has almost doubled in five years — to 547,054. At the same time, the number of households above the “rental stress” threshold — spending more than 30 per cent of their income in rent — has climbed to 520,598. (emphasis added)

According to an ALP press release (seemingly the source of this story) that’s equivalent to 27% of households with mortgages.

It is of course unsuprising that high property prices are flowing through to people spending more of their income on housing. But ‘stress’ in this context is a subjective rather than objective indicator, so it is not clear that we can really say that spending 30% of income on mortgage or rent payments is an ‘official’ indicator of financial stress.

Other measures of financial stress, for example, come up with lower estimates of financial problems among households with mortgages. The 2006 General Social Survey found that 16.5% of households with mortgages had experienced a cash flow problem in the previous 12 months (defined as not being able to pay a bill on time), which was slightly lower than the national average.

So where does the 30% of income figure come from? Continue reading “How ’stressed’ are households with mortgages?”