Is Home Ownership Still Part of The American Dream?

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Are we on the way to becoming a nation of renters? Could be. The 2008 housing crisis and subsequent recession had many long-term consequences, and it may have even contributed to a fundamental change in the values of our society. As home ownership rates plummet, it's easy to blame the drop on high costs, unavailable credit or gun-shy buyers, but more and more it seems that it's also about a shift in priorities. More Americans than ever are saying that owning a home just isn't a part of their plan.

As the recently released US Census data shows, only 65% of Americans own their homes, the lowest percentage since 1995. For the 35-and-under set, the numbers were the lowest in recorded history at 36.2% (the Housing Vacancy Survey began organizing home ownership by age in 1982).

With the higher unemployment rates among young people (over 10% of Americans ages 20-24 are still unemployed) and the tight post-recession credit restrictions, it may just be that young people simply don't have the cash, but could there be other factors preventing them from joining the real estate game?

This fascinating poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Miller Center shows that attitudes towards home ownership are in fact shifting. Take a look at question five, the section dealing specifically with the concept of the American Dream. In 1986, 78% of Americans said that owning a home was "very much" how they defined the American Dream. In 2013 only 61% agreed with that statement.

Yet 61% of Americans today responded that the American Dream had "real meaning" to them (down only 7% from 1986). This means that while the American Dream is still a very real concept to many people (or at least to a similar percentage of our society), home ownership is no longer a fundamental part of that concept.

Why is this happening? No doubt the housing crisis did much to change attitudes about the once rock-solid reputation of real estate as an investment, but it's more than that. Expensive cities mean that large urban populations usually rent rather than buy, and large populations of young people with transient lifestyles need the flexiblity of renting. And, with all social trends, as renting becomes more common, it will also become less stigmatized and therefore even more widespread.

We want to know — do you own your home or rent? Why did you make that choice?

(Image credits: Jennifer Hunter)

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