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The Impact of Declining
Marriage Rates on Homeownership

Thursday, October 26, 2017

By John McManus, Builder

Has the jury reached a verdict yet on whether Millennials can and will embrace homeownership as prior young adult cohorts have in years and economic cycles past?

If the question needs asking, the answer's probably no, it's still too early to tell. Whether Millennials are merely taking longer to materialize as an economic engine due to a long hangover of the Great Recession, or that in some structural way a critical mass of them will stray from homeownership as a preferred housing choice, still preys on most housing experts' minds.

A lingering source of doubt that the time-release triggers of demand for starter, entry-level, first-time owner options for 30-somethings may ever meet expectations comes from looking at marriage rates and their impact on home buying.

University of Southern California-based housing economist and policy expert Richard Green notes that declining marriage rates are a red flag for homeownership. Dr. Green observes:

“Stripped of all other variables, a household with a married couple whose combined earnings total $100,000 is 22% more likely to buy a home than a single-person with earnings of $100,000.”

So, declines in marriage rates, Professor Green asserts, are worrisome. He sees a strong correlation between the strong upward spike in college and post-graduate educational attainment among women, and the drop in marriage household formations.

Recent Pew Research analysis supports Green's hypothesis.

The share of adults who are unpartnered has increased across the young and middle-aged, but the rise has been most pronounced among young adults. Roughly six-in-10 adults younger than 35 (61%) are now living without a spouse or partner, up from 56% just 10 years ago.

Importantly, women of higher educational attainment consider it materially important for a male potential partner to have a college degree as a must-have.

Among adults ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 40% say being well educated is very important for a woman to be a good wife or partner, compared with 30% of those with less education. When it comes to the importance of a man being well educated, 44% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher say this is very important, compared with 32% of those with less education.

Now, the data show that men's educational attainment rates are not dropping to lower levels, but rather growing modestly. It's just that the extremely fast growth of higher educational attainment among females is creating a widening gender gap.

This may, in fact, structurally impact marriage rates, and could imply that challenges for those marketing and selling homes to non-conventional households, singles, and multigenerational households will reach a new level of urgency.

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