Do Bigger Homes Make Us Happier?

June 13, 2019
large house
Photo: Unsplash/Vita Vilcina

New research shows that Americans aren’t getting any happier as their house sizes grow.

The Atlantic reports that the median home size in 2015 was nearly 2,500 square feet, up from just over 1,500 square feet when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes in 1973. Combined with smaller family sizes, this translate to a lot more room per person in a home.

But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes. “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”

This finding, Bellet reasons, has to do with how people compare their houses with others in their neighborhood—particularly the biggest ones. In his paper, which is currently under peer review, he looks closely at the construction of homes that are larger than at least 90 percent of the other houses in the neighborhood. By his calculation, if homes in the 90th percentile were 10 percent bigger, the neighbors would be less pleased with their own homes unless those homes grew 10 percent as well. Moreover, the homeowners most sensitive to such shifts are the ones whose houses are in the second-biggest tier, not the ones whose houses are median-sized.

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