How do you explain at a party, in just a few sentences, what your research was about and what your findings were?
“I generally tell people that household debt played a major part in the global financial crisis. All sorts of measures were implemented to combat this type of debt, and I examined whether these measures were at all effective, whether there were any loopholes in them, and whether they could be properly enforced.
“In general, we have solid regulations in the Netherlands. Take the Temporary Mortgage Loan Act, for instance, which governs which percentage of your income you can borrow (among other things). It outlines rules for every income category, as well as all exceptions to these rules. Since the rules are so detailed, they are hard to circumvent. Our greatest problem is the fact that independent supervisors play a minor role in establishing the rules.”
How will the world benefit from your research?
“It is an illusion to believe that your PhD thesis will one day become a practical reality. But of course I hope that aspects of my research will find their way into practical reality and that they will make our economic system safer and ensure that fewer people run into problems. During the global financial crisis, many people lost their jobs or found themselves with underwater mortgages. People generally fall into debt due to a sudden change in their situation, e.g., the loss of a job, or a divorce that causes them to have to pay alimony. If a system of regulations could help such people build a buffer against such things, the world would be a better place.”
What was the worst thing about getting your PhD?
“I found getting my PhD to be a tough process. It’s something you do completely on your own. Of course, you do get to discuss things and spar with your supervisors and colleagues, but at the end of the day, you are doing it on your own. Like most PhD students, I went through a few periods where I found myself thinking, where is this going, and will there ever be an end to this? I mainly experienced this at the end of my first year. I was delineating my subject matter, so I immersed myself in the literature and came away with the impression that everything had already been investigated and there was nothing left to add to the body of research. By hanging on and obtaining a new insight or achieving a milestone, you will get out of that slump.”
Which of the persons you thank in your acknowledgements turned out to be more important to you than you thought they would be?
“I got married in 2013 and joined a Christian parish in Rotterdam Zuid. I often get together with the members of my neighbourhood assembly, to talk and think things over and have a nice meal together. I did not expect them to be in my acknowladgements. They were really supportive.”
“The idea behind it is that we are looking at a tower of debt that is leaning over a bit. What will happen when the wind blows into it? Could the tower topple? It doesn’t look all that secure. This symbolises the subject matter of my PhD thesis. Can the measures that have been implemented ensure that the level of debt remains stable?”