Ownership and physical health

How can home ownership impact on health? One possibility would be that residences occupied by their owners are kept in a better state than those rented. In that case, it would be more the living conditions rather than the ownership which would be important. Another would be that owners have wealth and income higher than renters and would be able to use it to take better care of their health. Here too, the impact of ownership on health would only be indirect. The one direct explanation is given by Saunders (1900) for whom homeownership offers an “ontological security” which must have a positive impact on health by promoting a general sense of well-being.

The type of housing tenure is a variable which is often included in studies on the health of individuals without really being the main focus of the investigation. It is used more as a control variable which serves to make the impact of other variables on health clearer. These studies may tend to show that homeowners are in better physical, as well as psychological, health compared to renters, but they neglect to control for residential or neighbourhood characteristics or even socioeconomic aspects, indeed for so many factors which can play a significant and confusing role.

Other studies have focussed more on the influence of the type of tenure on health. They find results in agreement with the idea that ownership improves health. For example, Filakti and Fox (1995) observed that English homeowners have a mortality rate lower than renters. Benzeval and Judge (1996) find that English homeowners consult their GPs less than do renters. Sundquist and Johansson (1997) make the same statement about Swedes. But these studies too lack control for socioeconomic differences, income or wealth thereby rendering their results not free of suspicion.

Macintyre et al. (1998) provide a more convincing study. They analyzed the answers of a sample of more than 1500 inhabitants of westernScotland to a particularly detailed questionnaire on health. Half of the respondents were under forty years of age and the other half were under sixty.  Their goal was to see whether ownership of real estate and a car improved health directly or only because they were approximate reflectors of income and self-esteem. Household income, adjusted for size and composition, as well the level of self-esteem were, then, control variables here. The results show in a very clear manner that after control for age, gender, and income (or level of self-esteem), the homeowners posted a better general level of health than the renters and better particular indicators (respiratory capacity, obesity, number of chronic illnesses, number of acute symptoms). Only blood pressure does not differ significantly between homeowners and renters. It is also worthy of note that ownership of a vehicle leads to identical differences in matters of health.

Conclusion

This study contributes a little more support to the idea that homeowners are in better health than renters and that this condition is not due strictly to income. Nevertheless, as for the other studies, it lacks a control for wealth, which homeownership of real estate, among other things, infers. Neither does it differentiate between owners who have paid for their residence and those who are still in the process of doing so. With such distinction, the assertion could be modified or at least slightly altered, as is the case for psychological health. Moreover, Nettleton and Burrows (1998) furnish information which shows that holding a real estate mortgage can damage the health of owners who are experiencing problems in paying it off. The authors found that difficulty with monthly mortgage payments went hand in hand with poorer scores in general health and more frequent visits to a GP. This result suggests that purchase of a real estate asset has positive consequences for health, at least as long as you manage to finance it…

Source: 50 psychological experiments for investors, Mickaël Mangot, Wiley (2009)

To learn more

BENZEVAL M. and JUDGE K. (1996), “Access to health-care inEngland– continuing inequalities in the distribution of GPs”, Journal of Public Health Medicine, 18, 33-40.

FILAKTI H. and FOX J. (1995), “Differences in mortality by housing tenure and by car access”, Population Trends, 81, 27-30.

MACINTYRE S., ELLAWAY A., DER G., GRAEME F. and HUNT K. (1998), “Do housing tenure and car access predict health because they are simply markers of income or self- esteem? A Scottish study”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 52, 657-664.

NETTLETON S. and BURROWS R.J. (1998), “Mortgage debt, insecure homeownership and health: an exploratory analysis”, Sociology of Health and Illness, 20, 731-753.

SAUNDERS P. (1990), A Nation of Home Owners,London: Unwin Hyman.

SUNDQUIST J. and JOHANSSON S.E. (1997), “Self-reported poor health and low educational level predictors for mortality: a population based follow-up study of 39,156 people in Sweden”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 51, 35-40.