I’ve argued for a long time now that part of what’s going on in cities is smaller families – 1 or 2
people – taking over spaces that once housed much larger families or even groups of families. You can see this everywhere from Brooklyn’s Park Slope to Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Boston’s South End, and lot’s of other places.
So I was delighted to see the folks over at Zillow have crunched the requisite numbers.
American families have shrunk dramatically and consistently over the past century. In 1900, the average American family was 4.6 people. By 1940 it declined to less than 4. In 1980 it slipped below 3, and hovers around 2.5 people today. Over the same time, our houses have gotten much, much bigger. In 1900, the average new home was about 700 square feet and most families lived in much smaller quarters than than. By 1940, the average new home was 1500 square feet where it hovered through the 60s and 70s. Before climbing to more than 2000 square feet in 1990 and around 2500 square feet today.
Or think of it this way. In 1900 the average American family in a new home was using up about 152 square feet per person. By 1940, each of them was consuming more than 400 square feet. By 1990, the figure was roughly 750 square feet. And today it’s about 1000 square feet each. We don’t need all that space. In many ways, big houses have become a status good. And a costly one at that. The environmental costs and impacts of our super-sized housing are a no-brainer. But there’s also the tremendous opportunity costs that come from channeling a large share of national investment and savings into real estate as opposed to say new technologies, new innovative industries, or improved health care?