Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Thu Dec 11th 2008 at 8:48am UTC

The Myth of the Happy Homeowner

Sure, I know they call it a money pit. And the money pit has turned into a financial death sentence for too many Americans. But it’s a veritable truism that owning a house makes you happy. It’s the pinnacle of the American Dream after all. Not so fast. According to this comprehensive study by the Wharton School’s Grace Wong, those who own their own homes are in fact a less happy lot than those that do not. Here are some of the study’s key conclusions.

I find little evidence that homeowners are happier 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 lower 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.

We can only hope policy-makers take this into account when think about what to do on the housing front.

8 Responses to “The Myth of the Happy Homeowner”

  1. Elizabeth M Says:

    I don’t understand all these so-called unhappy homeowners. I adore my home. I love having a yard to work in and walls to paint and a kitchen that’s almost as big as the entire condo I used to live in. I love having a garage so I don’t have to scrape ice off the windshield and I adore being able to have a piano that I can play as loudly as I want without bothering anyone but my husband. I even like the aerobic exercise of the housework and going up and down stairs. Now we have enough room for evenings-in with friends, overnight guests, and, frankly, we’re less pained by our new neighbors than any of those we used to live above or below just a few months ago.

  2. Zachary Neal Says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read the entire study yet. But, I would think that there’d be a big difference (and important to distinguish) between homeOWNERS and homeMORTGAGERS. It makes sense that mortgagers would be less happy than renters – the responsibility and stress that comes with it may not offset the gains in freedom. But I would expect true owners to be happier than either group, if for no other reason than the security of having a place to live long term.

  3. Rober Says:

    Worrying about maintenance costs that renters don’t have to worry about.

    Worrying about buildings insurance that renters don’t have to worry about.

    Worrying about gas boiler insurance that renters don’t have to worry about.

    Worrying about not upsetting your neighbours that renters don’t have to worry about becuase they can just up and leave if they have to.

    Worrying about whether your dope smoking neighbours will have an effect on the value of your home.

    Worrying about interest rates that renters don’t have to worry about.

    Worrying about rising or falling property prices that aren’t such an immediate problem for renters -

    Elizabeth, I don’t understand why you you don’t understand why owning a home isn’t always as rosy as it’s cracked up to be. And there’s nothing stopping a renter adoring his/her home, having a yard to work in an walls to paint and a kitchen that’s almost as big as the entire condo… your post merely illustrates your prejudices against renters!

  4. Mike L Says:

    Quote: “Once household income, housing quality and health are controlled for …”

    In the 30 years since buying my first home, all these have improved for me, and I am happier. But, if you control for those factors, true, I am probably no happier than I was as a renter.

    But, sorry, I would only rent if forced to, and I wouldn’t be happy about it.

  5. Elizabeth M Says:

    That’s a very shortsighted reading of my post, Rober. I have no prejudice against renters. I rented for years and now I myself am a landlord. My definition of “rosy” is quite personal – insurance, maintenance costs, property prices, etc. are a small price to pay for my sanity and comfort in my own home. No longer do I have to endure people stomping around over my head all hours of the day and night, or my walls thumping with the bass of the neighbors next door. (And before you say I should have up and moved, this was in the condo I own.) The beauty of having been a renter, owner, and landlord is that I can, with great certainty, say what is best… for me. And that is owning a home, whatever the highs and lows turn out to be along the way.

  6. Mike K Says:

    Perhaps I missed it, but does the study take into consideration urban, suburban, and rural factors? It would appear to me that some of the negative attributes the study associates with homeownership are more related to suburban lifestyles, as well as homeowners living beyond their financial means. My flip response is, I too would be in a bad mood if I had to commute long distances to work, thus preventing me from enjoying family and friends.

  7. Buzzcut Says:

    I’d like to see this data. I’m sure that if you controlled for something like hours worked, or workers per hosuehold, you would explain the other variables like weight, health, and sleep.

    People who work tend to be homeowners. Higher incomes tend to lead to more homeownership. There are cross correlations all over this data.

    With that said, anything that goes against the home ownership cult (or home ownership/ industrial complex) is allright by me. We put waaaaay too much emphasis on trying to get people to own homes, including people who have no business owning homes because they are incompetant. That’s my take away from the current financial crisis, which exposed a lot of housing myths.

  8. Catherine Says:

    Very good post, thanks!