December 15, 2008

Unhappy Homeowners

A new report from a Wharton professor entilted "The American Dream? The Private and External Benefits of Homeownership" dismantles the prevailing myth of the happy home owner. The author writes, "I find little evidence that homeowners are happier [than renters] by any of the following definitions: life satisfaction, overall mood, overall feeling, general moment-to-moment emotions (i.e., affect) and affect at home… They are also more likely to be 12 pounds heavier, report a lower health status and poorer sleep quality. They tend to spend less time on active leisure or with friends. The average homeowner reports less joy from love and relationships… Contrary to popular belief, I do not find significant differences in family-related time use patterns, family-related affect, number of normal work hours, indicators of stress or measures of self-esteem and perceived control of life by homeownership … Homeowners are happier on average only on an unadjusted basis. Once household income, housing quality and health are controlled for, they are no happier than renters. What’s more, they report to derive more pain from both the neighborhood and their house and home. This positive pain gap remains stable and robust when health, neighborhood characteristics and financial stress are controlled for. As for the most frequently cited channels of a positive impact by homeownership, namely self-esteem, stress, health and family life, again there is very little supporting evidence in my data… [H]omeowners spend less time on active leisure activities or with friends, which have been documented as some of the most enjoyable affective experiences."

This is a most interesting read, as I find that a subtle but palpable peer pressure exists around the topic of home ownership, supported so effectively by wall-to-wall programming such as HGTV and similar decor porn media outlets, "big box" home decor and improvement stores, and countless home magazines. The message we receive is that you only arrive once you've purchased a home, that you are somehow less responsible or that you are living carefree if you are a renter. I think home ownership is one of the most significant decisions any of us will ever make and it should be made for all the right reasons at the best possible time for the individual(s) involved. The subprime mortgage crisis reveals the dangers of selling the dream to those who should never have taken the keys in the first place.    

1 comment:

  1. No argument here (coming from a homeowner). To me, it's only a means to a financial end. And that end only becomes a reality when the market works for you.