Homeownership, well-being, class and politics: Perceptions of American homeowners and renters
This research brings into focus the social psychological dimensions of housing and extends the scholarship on homeownership and housing theory in the United States. It has examined certain widespread assumptions made popular by the "get ahead" theories inherent in the American Dream. GSS survey data for the years 1985 through 1991 are employed to detect differences in the perceptions of homeowners and renters using a quality of life (QOL) approach to measure subjective well-being; a subjective social class measure to test for feelings of being "middle class" and various measures to determine whether homeowners are more "conservative" than renters. The conventional wisdom about homeownership and increased well-being is supported by the results. Homeowners experience significantly higher feelings of family satisfaction than renters; they are more satisfied with leisure time activities; and they are more satisfied than renters with their financial condition. Homeowners, in general, feel significantly happier than renters. The belief that homeownership enhances feelings of social status is also supported. Homeowners see themselves as "middle class" more often than renters, signifying their feelings of enhanced social status. The effect of homeownership remains significant, although modest, for workers when tested for differences using an objective class measure. Homeowners perceive themselves as "conservative" more often than renters, but tests on additional measures of left-right political attitudes failed to uncover any further differences between the political views of homeowners and renters. The conceptualization of a new housing theory emerged from the research and is presented to provide a reframed and expanded way of looking at housing and homeownership. In the U.S., symbolic concepts of home and ownership are linked. They were intensified by political and business interests through explicit housing policy that benefited a growing population and formed housing norms that now permeate American culture. Policymakers now hold the key to the ability of private housing markets to innovate and to the future housing tenure choices of Americans. In light of the research results, housing policy should seek to reverse the nation's falling homeownership rate and to enable more renting Americans to become homeowners.