The inaugural meeting of the European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) 'Housing and Family Dynamics' Working Group was held on June 29th-July 2nd in Lisbon, Portugal. Participants came from across Europe and as far afield as Japan and Australia to discuss emerging and well established social issues linking housing and family life.
A brief synopsis of the event is presented below.
Session 1 concentrated on how housing affects major demographic decisions, such as when to have a baby and where to live when you move. Alda Azevedo used Spanish data to show that high homeownership rates reduce fertility by making it more difficult to form households. Squeezed housing supply and high housing costs may thus have long term effects on family formation in countries like Britain where household formation is made difficult by the housing system. Next, Roger Andersson presented evidence that family ties shape young adults' moving decisions in Norway. Crucially however, people do not seem to be drawn to live in poor neighbourhoods even if their family live there. So there doesn't seem to be much evidence to suggest that family ties play a major role in creating poverty neighbourhoods.
Session 2 tackled well-being in later life, examining whether the policy thrust towards 'ageing in place' is (a) practical and (b) good for financial or subjective well-being. Daniel Herbers showed that renting is linked with lower well-being in most European countries, but this link is noticeably weaker when renting is better regulated. This has clear implications for Britain where there is very little regulation of the private rental market. Christine Martens looked at how Norwegian municipalities provide housing in later life before Karien Dekker examined how neighbourhood care networks support the elderly across Europe.
Participants discussed how separation and divorce affect housing in Session 3. Although there is good evidence that divorce has major negative consequences for incomes, much less is known about how it affects housing wealth. Barend Wind showed that the negative economic impacts of divorce are more pronounced for women than men. The gender gap has, however, declined over time, although overall losses at divorce are greater in countries with more market based welfare states and greater access to credit. Nahoko Kawata then presented evidence for gender differences from Japan before Christa Hubers discussed how parental divorce affects children's chances of entering homeownership in Britain.
This workshop looked at whether parents affect children's housing outcomes. Rory Coulter's presentation showed that parental homeownership significantly increases the chances that children become homeowners by ages 30-34, but that this effect has become less pronounced over time. Oana Druta then examined exactly how parents affect their children's housing. Her study showed that parents see their children's homeownership as a 'worthy goal' and they are prepared to expend considerable time and expense to help them achieve it. This creates a paradoxical situation of 'dependent independence' amongst young people.
Session 5 & Session 6
Session 5 concentrated on housing design. Julia Lindenthal's Austrian project considered how single-family homes can be continuously adapted to fit people's needs as they move through life. Luany Promenzio discussed the cultural 'meaning' of housing, before Rute Gomes analysed how families adapt to cramped conditions in Portugal. Although people can adapt to cramped conditions this is often difficult and involves creative 'scheduling' of daily routines so as not to impinge on one another. In Session 6 Jungmin Choi presented an analysis of cohabitation in South Korea before Lucie Galcanova wrapped up the conference by discussing how young people experience living alone. Her study showed that living alone is not simply a negative indicator of 'loneliness' but nor is it an unequivocally positive experience.
I took away two main messages from the workshop:
A. Families matter for housing wealth in ways that go beyond shaping who becomes a homeowner and when this takes place. For example, divorce disrupts housing wealth in unpredictable ways that are generally more negative for women. Focusing solely on simple ideas of 'Generation Rent' and young people's access to homeownership thus misses many forms of housing wealth inequality.
B. Researchers and policymakers need to move beyond an obsession with wealth and tenure to concentrate on (a) quality and (b) use. These things really matter for well-being in the here and now. In Britain this means that reforms to improve the affordability, security and quality of private renting are well overdue.
The Working Group will hold its next meeting in Belfast in June 2016. We welcome all submissions dealing with contemporary issues affecting families and housing.