From Working-Class Credit to Middle-Class Credit: How Consumer Credit Became Recommended and Attractive in France at Mid-Twentieth Century

Sabine Effosse

The aim of this article is to show how the regulation of consumer credit in France in the 1950s-1960s impacted, through the modification of the terms of it distribution, the social uses of credit. From being stigmatized as a credit used to purchase food or semi-durables products (textiles) by working classes, it became a trivial means for urban middle classes to enjoy comfort in The American way of Life- style.

In a first part, it means analyzing to what extent, in a country long rural, consumer credit of commercial origin had bad reputation and was a default choice (Out of necessity). In a second part, the article will show how the need to support French industry and to boost economic growth, in a country where purchasing power had remained low, led the government to regulate credit in 1954. In a third part, we will finally examine how that regulation that encouraged the emergence of new bank lenders, resulted, through the improvement of credit conditions, in the widespread use of consumer credit. Enhanced, “standardized”, that credit then became, just like savings to which it was not opposed anymore, an additional means to benefit from the society of abundance with no delay. Adopted by the salaried middle classes, it is the ultimate tool to provide households with their first new durables goods (refrigerators, automobiles, washing machines).