Homeownership and Citizenship, Part 2

Readers of Chatterbox’s earlier item (click here to read) questioning the proposition that homeownership makes you a better citizen have been sending Chatterbox various additional studies on this matter. In general, the research tends to reinforce Chatterbox’s view that it doesn’t, but in a few significant ways the research goes the other way. Herewith, a summary:

Sense of well-being. Presumably you can’t be a good citizen if you don’t feel good about yourself. Does owning a house make you feel better about life? According to a study by Peter H. Rossi and Eleanor Weber of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, owners “regard themselves as having a greater sense of well-being than renters, but only marginally so.” Rossi and Weber say they can’t tell whether ownership creates a slightly better sense of well-being, or whether people with a better sense of well-being are slightly more likely to own their own homes.

Sociability. Owners have a slightly greater tendency to belong to membership organizations, according to Rossi and Weber. Owners are also a little more likely to belong to “nationality groups” and “youth groups” and are a little more likely to spend evenings with relatives. But renters are a little more likely to spend evenings with neighbors and co-workers and friends who aren’t neighbors. Renters are also more likely to go to bars (a form of communality about which one should probably have mixed feelings).

Effect on families. Owners disagree with their spouses about more things than renters do. Owners also have sex less, “and cope less well with parenting” (Rossi and Weber). A study by Richard K. Green of the University of Wisconsin and Michelle J. White of the University of Michigan, however, claims that homeownership helps to keep kids in school, especially in low-income families, and also helps keep teenage daughters from becoming pregnant. Something called a “bivariate probit (endogenous switching) model” purports to demonstrate that this is not attributable to the likelihood that people who buy houses started out being more capable and responsible than people who do not. Chatterbox couldn’t make head or tail of these equations. But Rossi and Weber, reviewing the same data, say the difference may be attributable to the fact that “homeowners have access to better schools or that the peer groups of adolescents in their neighborhoods provide an interpersonal environment with values supporting high school completion.”

According to Rossi and Weber, homeowners work harder to perform household tasks, with the additional burden falling entirely on the wives. So much for the myth that husbands spend their weekends hammering new siding onto the garage. (Maybe that’s why owners have sex less often–the wives are too tired, or too pissed off, to consort with their layabout husbands.)

Upkeep. Surely, one would think, people who own their homes keep them up better than people who don’t. But a study by Dean H. Gatzlaff of Florida State University, Richard K. Green of the University of Wisconsin, and David C. Ling of the University of Florida, finds “only weak evidence that long-run rates of appreciation (and maintenance rates) differ between owner- and renter-occupied housing.”

Voting, etc. Chatterbox saved the most inconvenient data for last. A study by Denise DiPasquale of City Research in Boston and Edward L. Glaeser of Harvard finds that homeowners are 10 percent more likely to know the name of their U.S. representative; 9 percent more likely to know the name of their school board head; 15 percent more likely to vote in local elections; and 6 percent more likely to “work to solve local problems.” However, much of this difference is attributable to the fact that “homeowners are different in many ways from renters.” (Most significantly, they’re richer.) When Pasquale et al. control for this and other factors, they find that there’s still a correlation with knowing your congressman, voting, etc. But, at least in the United States (they also looked at Germany), “a significant fraction of the effect of homeownership occurs because homeownership is associated with longer community tenure”–not because homeownership per se makes you a better person. Moreover, according to Rossi and Weber, owners are “no more likely than renters to try to influence other voters, work for parties or candidates, or attend political rallies.”

However, owners are more likely to vote or get involved in national elections (according to Rossi and Weber). This suggests that Chatterbox’s previously stated hunch that renters are more interested than owners in the problems of people living outside their neighborhood is, er, wrong. Hey, Chatterbox said he was just wondering about this …