Misery: The American Dream

Via Matt Yglesias via Felix Salmon, we learn that home ownership isn’t quite the Nirvana it’s purported to be.

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.

As both Matt and Felix argue, this is pretty good reason to align Federal housing policy such that home ownership isn’t incentivized for the sake of its expansion, but this  seems more like a damning indictment of the dangers of family life. That is, roughly 80 percent of married couples are homeowners, so I’m not sure how fair it is to blame weight gain, lower health status, poorer sleep quality, and less time for leisure purely on home ownership when it’s probable that these particular outcomes are more closely linked with the stresses of raising a family.

Rather, the argument against boosting home ownership rates for their own sake is probably best made by highlighting the economic downsides of home ownership (that exist in conjunction with positive aspects).

The data comes from a study by Wharton professor Grace Wong.

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