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The Impact of Homeownership on Marriage and Divorce: Evidence from Propensity Score Matching

swrPolicymakers often express concern about family stability in their communities, and promote marriage and homeownership as two of the leading means for increasing and maintaining family stability. But how do marriage and homeownership affect one another? Does homeownership increase or decrease the likelihood of a person getting married? Does it increase or decrease the likelihood of a couple getting divorced?

In a recent issue of Social Work Research, Michael Grinstein-Weiss, PhD, Kim R. Manturuk, PhD, Shenyang Guo, PhD, Pajarita Charles, PhD, and Clinton Key, MA, discuss their findings regarding research into the interrelation between homeownership and marriage/divorce. Since upper income families are largely very stable with regard to both homeownership and marriage, the researchers chose to look at low- to moderate-income families. They used longitudinal survey data from the Community Advantage Program Study, which followed a sample of homeowners whose mortgages were financed through a secondary-market loan program. This program funded prime-rate mortgages for low- and moderate-income buyers who otherwise would not have qualified for a mortgage. Their findings pointed to two significant trends:

  1. Homeowners who are married are more likely to stay married; and
  2. Homeowners who are single are more likely not to marry.

These findings fit with certain theoretical understandings of marriage, namely that people marry to gain resources and establish a household division of labor, and that marriage only occurs when the benefits outweigh the costs. For two people without a home, marriage may allow for the pooling of resources that could lead to homeownership. However, a single person who owns her own home may not increase her benefits by marrying. On the other hand, when married people own a home, they are less likely to divorce because the benefits of maintaining the relationship outweigh the costs of ending it. Homeownership seems to provide some measure of protection against divorce, but decreases the likelihood of marriage among single homeowners. Single homeowners have a greater degree of material wealth, stable income, financial literacy and social resources, and may have difficulty finding a mate who matches their resource levels.

As the authors point out:

[H]omeownership functions as a financial and social resource, meaning homeowners “bring more to the table” when forming a marriage partnership and have more to lose. Although homeowners may be desirable marriage partners, they might find it difficult to find someone who brings enough resources to the partnership to outweigh the costs.

These findings have implications for policymakers who promote both homeownership and marriage as ideals for family stability. The authors suggest further research into the implications of marriage, family and homeownership is needed for social workers and policymakers to have a better grasp of what can benefit their communities.

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