Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

Residential Demographics and Resilience-I: Who Owns Homes

At its most basic, community resilience is about people.  Those of us who are focused on enhancing community resilience often make the mistake of thinking that one size fits all, whether it’s the messages we craft or the media we use to disseminate them.  Getting both the message and the method of delivery right is an important part of becoming more resilient. 

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we needed to know more about the demographics of homeowners and renters.  I suspected that homeownership would be skewed toward those of us who are, ahem, older more seasoned.  We know that social media usage is skewed toward the young, so that might not be the most useful approach for communicating with older homeowners.  I also pointed out that the mitigation messages would likely be different for homeowners and renters, and perhaps for old and young.  I’m going to look at the data around these issues in this post and the next.  In this one, I’m going to focus on the demographics of homeowners and renters.

First, let’s look at the rate of homeownership as a function of age of the owner (all data for 2011, ultimately from the Census Bureau).


It should be clear that the Great Recession has had a significant effect on homeownership – about a 3-6% drop for all age groups less than 60.  However, the effect then decreases with age and then disappears for the oldest cohort.  This likely indicates that these older cohorts have paid off their mortgages and weren’t impacted by the credit crisis.  As I suspected, the rate of homeownerhip is skewed – the youngest cohort has the lowest rate of homeownership, by far. 

However, it is also obvious that a sizable fraction of the under-25s (about a fourth of those young whippersnappers) own their own homes.  That got me suspicious; percentages can often mask reality.  That leads to the next figure – the absolute number of homeowners and renters by age group.

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This tells the same story but in a more useful manner.  There are five times more homeowners 65 or older than there are under 30; four times more homeowners over 54 than under 35.  Thus, my suspicions about the skewing of homeownership toward “more seasoned” Americans have held true.  However, it is also clear (no real surprise) that the middle-aged “clump” – those 35-64 – makes up the majority of homeowners.

A few other items to keep in mind…

•  One-third of rentals are single-family homes.

•  According to realtors across the country, the younger cohorts seem to prefer city living; i.e., condos, townhouses and apartments compared to the traditional white picket fence suburban home.  It is likely that if we looked at the statistics for the traditional detached home, we’d find them even more skewed away from the younger groups. 

•  Employment of those over 64 has increased monotonically throughout this century, i.e., has been unaffected by the Great Recession.  Compared to other groups, we probably are quite happy to take part-time jobs. 

•  Conversely, employment of the young took a huge hit starting in 2007, and has not yet fully recovered.  Many who are just starting out will have to wait until later to buy a home because they won’t have either the savings or the income to be able to establish sufficient credit.

In the next post, I’ll take a look at the demographics of social media usage, and share some thoughts about targeting resilience messages and choosing the media for delivering the messages.