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 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 â¿¿ 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.
High unemployment has played a role. But economists say the financial crisis, and the government debt crisis that started in Europe a year later, has spooked even people who can afford to splurge to cut back.
Arnaud Reze, 36, owns a home in Nantes, France, has piled up money in savings accounts and stocks, and has a government job that guarantees 75 percent of his pay in retirement. But he fears the pension guarantee won't be kept. So he's stopped buying coffee at cafes and cut back on lunches with colleagues and saved in numerous other ways. "Little stupid things that I would buy left and right ... I don't buy anymore," he says.