New American homes were bigger than ever last year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. After a few years of shrinkage in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the median square footage of newly-built homes last year tipped the scales at over 2,400 square feet. That’s nearly 1,000 square feet larger than the median home built in 1992. The death of the McMansion has been greatly exaggerated…
There are any number of explanations for this trend. Young first-time buyers, who are less inclined to buy big suburban houses, are largely sitting out of the market. Credit requirements are still much tighter than they were before the housing collapse, so much of the activity in the housing market is from wealthier families looking to trade up — and they’re looking for bigger and better.
Another, possibly overlooked contributor? Politics. A 2012 paper by Stanford political scientist Adam Bonica found that builders and construction firms were among the most politically conservative businesses in America, judged by their owners and employees’ contributions to political parties. And a Pew Research Center study last year found that conservatives overwhelmingly prefer communities where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away.”
I don’t know how much of this is just political. To suggest so means that both sides can claim the other is trying to push a particular agenda: conservatives argue liberals are trying to force everyone into big cities and liberals can argue developers are politically connected people who only want to serve the wealthy. Either cities or McMansions become the big enemy. I would instead privilege two factors. First, an economic situation where many Americans don’t have the money to purchase a home (the homeownership rate is down overall) as well as a housing market that is primarily catering to wealthier buyers (there are more profits to be made in more expensive homes). Second, there is an American ideology that privileges individualism and private space, values that aren’t exclusively conservative or necessarily related to the exurbs. For example, the suburbs are not full of McMansions; suburbs range from inner-ring suburbs to exurbs with a wide range of housing and populations.