Grace Wong dived deep into a survey of 809 women in Columbus, Ohio, in 2005 — before the property bubble burst — and came up with some startling results:
An interesting portrait of homeowners emerges from my analysis. 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. Several
factors might be at work: homeowners derive more pain (but no more joy) from both their home
and their neighborhood. They are also more likely to be 12 pounds heavier, report
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. She is also
less likely to consider herself to enjoy being with people… The results are robust after controlling
for reported financial stress.
I’ve been saying for as long as this blog has existed that homeownership is overrated and that it carries a downside as well as an upside. Today, of course, the biggest downside is the risk of foreclosure. But even absent that risk, buying a house doesn’t seem to make people any happier, and in fact homeowners find their home to be more of a source of pain than of pleasure.
For this we make mortgage interest tax deductible, we create monsters like Fannie and Freddie, we run election campaigns promising everybody their own home, we equate homeownership with the American Dream? It’s idiotic. I don’t expect Americans to all go to Germany and realize how happy people are when they don’t need to worry about all the stresses which accompany homeownership. But I do think that substantially all of the upside to homeownership in recent years has been a function of rising house prices. Now that’s come to an end, it’s hard to see why anybody would want to buy.
In fact, if Americans could be persuaded that rent payments aren’t "wasted money" and that owning often makes less financial sense than renting, I think the rate of homeownership might, happily, drop substantially. But it’s not going to happen. The ideal of homeownership is deeply embedded in the American psyche, and any datapoints which don’t fit into that ideal are automatically discarded.