Committee ChairWallendorf, Melanie R.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation examines the phenomenon of consumer debt in the U.S. and probes the issue of credit card debt from a consumer-centric perspective. It examines how credit card usage and credit card debt are embedded in consumers' social relations and life projects, and reveals how debtors cope within their social networks as they use credit cards and manage their credit card debt.Study 1 explores how young adults use credit cards to achieve their life goals as well as to negotiate changes in their relationships with their parents. Credit cards are an important tool for helping young people gain independence and sever their obligation to their parents. This study focuses on the initial stage of credit consumption and examines the rationale young adults use when acquiring credit cards and taking on credit card debt. Through depth interviews with 17 undergraduate students who have credit card debt, I find that the consumption of credit cards corresponds to their strategies to negotiate independence as well as obligations to their parents. The use of credit cards and management of credit card debt among young adults is a significant and symbolic aspect of their transition from childhood to adulthood, and credit cards are a transitional tool for this coming of age.Study 2 focuses on another phase of debt consumption: repayment of credit card debt. Depth interviews were conducted with 22 adult debtors who were enrolled in a debt elimination program at a credit-counseling agency. Two main theoretical themes are found. First, debtors negotiate the meaning of consumer status. The concept of normality with respect to consumer behavior changes from being based on lifestyle and possessions to a focus on maintaining consumer credibility and being a good credit citizen. Second, during the process of falling into debt and struggling to extricate oneself from debt, consumers engage in a stigma management process to deal with people in their social networks. In addition to coping with the financial consequences of debt, debtors also employ strategies to cope with debt's symbolic consequences.