Commentators may be touting the virtues of renting but according to a recent poll from the Woodrow Wilson Center, a clear majority of Americans still think homeownership is a worthwhile goal:
Voters personally put very high importance on homeownership. When asked to indicate on a scale of zero to ten where zero means homeownership is not at all important and ten means it is extremely important, voters rate the importance of homeownership as a mean score of 8.597.
-Fully 62% of all voters rated homeownership as a ten out of ten. Those most likely to indicate homeownership is extremely important are voters in states with lower unemployment rates as well as rural (71%) and urban (67%) areas.
-Importance placed on homeownership increases with age where just 53% of 18-44 years old indicate it is extremely important but 64% of those 45-64 and 72% of those over 65 years old would rate it as a ten out of ten…
When asked to consider the importance of homeownership compared to five years ago, one-third of voters feel homeownership is more important (33%) and 51% feel it is just as important. Only 12% of voters say homeownership is less important than it was five years ago…
A majority (54%) of voters believe that “increasing homeownership should be a national priority.” By comparison, voters universally (90%) believe that “homeownership is part of the American Dream.”
Considering some of what I have read in recent years, this is overwhelming support for homeownership. The economy may be bad, foreclosures may be more common, some 15 million homes have underwater mortgages, and homeownership rates are trending down, but it will take a long time before Americans give up the dream of homeownership. It is interesting to note in the figures above that younger American adults see homeownership as less important. It is also interesting to note that there are more mixed opinions about how much the government should be involved with the mortgage industry or promoting homeownership.
This is based on telephone interviews with 1,000 “registered ‘likely’ voters.”
A NPR story on these poll results suggests the dream of homeownership runs deep in American history:
The term “American dream” became popular in the 1930s, says Bob Shiller, a housing economist at Yale. “But I associate it with the suburban movement that developed after World War II,” he says…
The American tradition of actively encouraging home- or farm ownership dates back even further, he says.
“That was the real American dream — [owning] your own farm. So we had the Homestead Act in the 1860s that made it possible for anyone with modest means to buy a farm,” he says.
Still earlier, the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville noted the importance of homeownership in his book Democracy in America, published in the 1830s and based on his travels around the country.
“He noticed the independent streak of Americans and their desire to own their own farm and their own home,” Shiller says. “He thought that that represented a kind of anti-feudal feeling — that each person in this country is an independent agent. There is no landlord or lord with his thumb on you.”
History doesn’t change overnight though feelings about homeownership could change within a generation or two.