Larger Home Means More Happiness – Misconception? Scott Kohea Explains

Recent academic research sheds light on the relationship between the size of a home and happiness. According to Scott Kohea, it might surprise you to learn that there is a correlation between happiness and causation.

American suburbs have seen a remarkable upscaling of the size of their new homes: Since 1980, the median size for single-family new-build houses has increased by almost 800 square feet despite an increase in average household size. The median new-build house now measures twice as much as it did in 1945.

However, the house size gap has increased over the same time, due to the construction of larger houses at the top end of the size distribution. Only 5% of suburban homes larger than 3,000 square feet were built in 1980. This number jumped to 15% thirty years later.

Surprisingly though, the major improvements in material comfort and larger houses did not result in a rise in satisfaction. Many suburban homeowners report the same level of satisfaction with their homes today as in 1980.

Although absolute home sizes have increased without adding to happiness, it’s interesting to see how relative home sizes or the size of your house compared to others, affect happiness levels. Data shows that “keeping up with Joneses” is a real thing. One study shows that an individual must choose between society A, where he will live in a house of 4,000 feet, and others in houses measuring 6,000 feet. Or society B, in which he’ll live in a house of 3,000 feet and others in houses measuring 2,000 feet. Society B is preferred by most people over society A. This is a situation where their absolute house size and relative house size are smaller.

Housing is one of the most visible indicators of wealth and consumption. The size of a house is perhaps the most obvious indicator of material success in American suburbs. Construction of new homes at the top of distribution reduces homeowner satisfaction. This is a strong indicator that McMansions contributed to the increase in size and rise in mortgage debt in the years preceding the Great Recession.

It’s also worth noting that the market for vehicles does not always correspond with better. A smaller vehicle might be a sports car, or something more practical than a sedan, truck, or SUV. People are discovering that having more space does not always mean happiness. It could be the community amenities, quality finishes, or the personification one finds in their home.

It is interesting to also note that our zoning ordinances primarily focus on the lower end, increasing the size of smaller houses while allowing larger houses to continue growing larger. Most suburban communities favor the use of large minimum lot sizes. This may have contributed to increased financial distress and increased behavioral problems. However, it has not led to long-term increases in house satisfaction.

Scott Kohea says that many cities and states recognize the need to increase density and provide affordable housing. They are looking for ways to work around existing building codes, such as accessory dwelling units or higher-density permits. Existing neighbors should welcome this.

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