The Hot New Trend for Married Couples? Roommates

published Feb 13, 2019
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It’s not unusual to live with a roommate to cut down costs. Hey, life is expensive! But 2018 demonstrated that an unlikely population is taking on roommates in order to make ends meet: married people.

Economists at Trulia determined that in 2018, over 280,000 married couples (or 0.46 percent of all married U.S. households) lived with a roommate or boarder.

Now, you may think that number sounds minuscule. But it’s a serious jump compared to just over 20 years ago. In fact, the home listing site found that the rate more than doubled since 1995.

So why the skyrocketing trend in the last couple decades? Well, like most things, rising housing costs. Among the 100 largest metropolitan areas, those with higher home prices also tended to have higher rates of married couples with roommates: Trulia finds that, on average, every $100,000 increase in the median metro home value corresponded to a 0.25 percentage point increase in the share of married couples with roommates.

Notably, this trend is particularly common in expensive West Coast housing markets like San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles, as well as Honolulu. In these markets, married couples were between four and five times more likely to have a roommate than the national average.

It’s worth noting that the national trend is largely driven by married homeowners over renters. One way of looking at this would be to assume that, even when married, it’s particularly hard to afford a rent or mortgage.

But Trulia thinks something a little more interesting is at play: Renters are more directly affected by fluctuations in housing costs (i.e. periodic rent increases or accepting higher/lower rents when moving) whereas homeowners housing costs are relatively stable overtime. So Trulia posits that when housing costs become problematic, married renters are usually the ones to go out and find a roommate to help defray costs.

But that means that when the share of married homeowners with roommates peak—like it did in 2012, around the national foreclosure crisis—it was most likely because the roommate was having financial distress, not necessarily because the homeowner was having trouble paying the bills. So it very well may be that married homeowner couples are helping out their cash-strapped single friends by letting them live with them.

Interested in reading more? Check out Trulia’s calculations and full analysis here.