A considerable body of evidence suggests that people's decisions are affected by how a choice is presented, or what the default option looks like. There's a reason that grocery stores put some products at eye-level and some near the floor, or why the staples like milk and eggs are often far from the door (so you have to walk through the store to grab them), or why the checkout counters have nearby racks of candy. There's a reason that gas stations sometimes advertise that gas is 5 cents a gallon less if you pay cash, but never advertise that gas is 5 cents more per gallon if you don't pay cash. There's a reason that many people have their employer automatically deduct money from paychecks for their retirement accounts, rather than trying to make their own monthly or annual payments to that same account.
High-income countries vary considerably in the share of households that own their own homes, The US rate of homeownership was about average by international standards 20-25 years ago, but now is below the average. Here are some facts from Laurie S. Goodman and Christopher Mayer, "Homeownership and the American Dream" in the Winter 2018 issue of Journal of Economic Perspectives (32:1, pp. 31-58).
There's one event that very often turns college enrollment into a poor financial decision with a negative payoff: not completing a degree. Then that happens, the student has spent both money and some years of time in a program that not only offers little financial payoff, but may also leave them saddled with student loans to repay for years to come. More broadly, society's investment in higher education isn't paying off. Two DC think-tanks, ThirdWay and the American Enterprise Institute, have published a set of five readable papers on the subject:
Homeownership rates in the US rebounded a bit in 2017, but remain near historically low levels. This is a source of concern for a number of reasons: homeownership is a savings vehicle that has worked for a number of households over time; being a homeowner encourages people to look after and contribute to their neighborhoods; and homeownership is part of that loose vision of the good life sometimes called the "American dream." I'll draw on evidence presented in The State of the Nation's Housing 2018, the 30th version of an report produced annually by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. For those who want an overview of US housing markets, including issues of rental markets and low-income affordability, it's a good place to start. Here, I'll focus on homeownership patterns.
The debate over the extent to which uninsured medical costs lead to personal bankruptcies is interesting for a couple of reasons. In terms of social science, it shows the difference between a naive reading of survey data and an actual research design. In terms of politics, it shows the allure of a more glamorous and striking claim, even when incorrect, over a similar claim that is less flashy but actually true.
There are legitimate concerns about how the poverty line is set. It was set back in the early 1960s and adjusted for inflation since then, but without regard for other changes in the economy.
Analysis in economics and other social sciences often uses a combination of words and mathematics. There is an ongoing critique by those who argue that while the math may sometimes be useful, it is too often deployed with insufficient regard for whether it captures the underlying economic reality. In such cases, the argument goes, math is used as a way of pretending that an argument about the real-world economy has been definitely made, or settled, when in reality only an equation of limited application has been solved.