Homeowners appear happy, despite troubles


June 04, 1995|By Kenneth R. Harney

Washington -- The secret is finally out from behind closed doors: American homeowners have a lot more arguments -- and less frequent sex -- with their spouses than people who rent apartments or houses do with their spouses.

By their own admission, homeowners cope less well than renters with the pressures of child-rearing. They're frazzled by the extra household chores that get loaded on top of their regular employment.

And homeowners aren't nearly as sociable as renters. They are less likely to spend evenings with their neighbors, co-workers, friends or relatives than people who rent their dwellings.

But there's a flip side: Homeowners are much more likely than renters to describe themselves as happy with their lives.

They're more self-confident, more upbeat, healthier and richer: They've got more money in the bank, more money stashed in mutual funds, higher personal incomes, and are far less likely than renters to have unpaid bills sitting around 90 days past due.

Sound like a mixed review of the personal implications of homeownership? It is indeed, according to the findings of the BTC first national statistical portrait of homeowners and how they differ from renters.

Prepared by Peter H. Rossi and Eleanor Weber of the University of Massachusetts' Social and Demographic Research Institute, the study analyzed data from interviews conducted with thousands of American households over a six-year period.

The co-authors said some of their findings challenge traditional assumptions about the benefits of homeownership. For example, the research found that owners and renters do not differ much in their levels of satisfaction with their neighborhoods, nor do they differ about how safe they feel when walking at night in their neighborhoods.

Then there's the issue of marital bliss.

Mr. Rossi said he wouldn't speculate about why married homeowners report significantly higher rates of "spousal disagreement" and lower frequency of sexual intercourse. All the study suggests is that one of the apparently inescapable facts about owning and maintaining a home is that it "requires more work."

Owners have to spend more time and energy on household chores, and guess which spouse bears the overwhelming time burdens of that extra work?

You got it. "The increased housework for (home)owning wives," say Mr. Rossi and Ms. Weber, "is not matched by an increase in the work done by husbands. Owners and renters claim that husbands spend about the same numbers of hours in that activity."

In other words, husbands who rent and husbands who own put in about the same amount of time on chores.

Wives who co-own homes are shouldering proportionately more of the total household work than those who rent.

So no wonder there are more arguments and less spare time for lovemaking. Are you guys out there listening?

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