A new study of the daily lives of more than 800 women in Columbus, OH, finds little evidence that the homeowners are happier than renters as measured by life satisfaction, overall mood, overall feeling, and general moment-to-moment emotions both inside and outside the home.
The average homeowner in the study derived more pain and no more joy from her home than the average renter. While the homeowners also reported lower health status, controlling for health status did not change the study’s conclusions on well being.
Without taking into account additional variables, homeowners appear more satisfied with their lives, their neighborhoods and their homes. However, even without taking into account other factors, homeowners report more pain as well as more joy being derived from their home.
When basic income, home value, and health characteristics are included, however, this evidence of greater happiness disappears. As more variables are added, homeowners appear to be less happy overall. Interestingly, self-reported financial insecurity does not appear to affect the results, according to the author. In general renters and owners appear to have similar levels of stress. The findings appear to be robust whether it is happiness when at home or outside it that is being measured. The author also finds no apparent link between homeownership and self-esteem or perceived control over their lives.
The average homeowner does appear to spend more time on housework than on leisure, as might be predicted, but otherwise both groups appeared to use their time in similar ways. One difference is that the homeowners in the survey spent less time interacting with neighbors and had more negative responses to that activity. In general, few differences in civic engagement are found in the study.
The paper makes use of a Day Reconstruction Survey in which respondents were asked to identify their activities on the previous days and their emotions during those activities. Included in the survey were a number of more general satisfaction and demographic questions. The survey data were collected in 2005. Though this was at the height of the housing boom nationally, Ohio was already feeling the strain of the foreclosure crisis. For both owners and renters, the study was limited to households living in single-family homes. These data were then matched to data from local tax records and the 2000 U.S. Census to assess housing quality and the relative characteristics of the respondent relative to their neighbors. The findings are the result of a series of linear regressions.
The author notes that the focus on women in Columbus suggests caution must be used in generalizing these findings to the entire nation or particular subpopulations elsewhere in the country. Given Columbus’s demographics she concludes that they may best be considered a “reflection of Middle America.” The paper, The American Dream or the American Delusion? The Private and External Benefits of Homeownership, by Grace W. Bucchianeri is available at: http://real.wharton.upenn.edu/~wongg/research/The%20American%20Dream.pdf.