Housing and family wealth : comparative international perspectives

Ray FORREST, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Alan MURIE, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

Abstract

The growth of individual home ownership has been a common phenomenon in recent decades across a broad range of developed economies. Its growth has been associated with ideas of extending individual property ownership and with a pervasive privatism and individualism in contemporary society. Home ownership is seen as an essential component of the middle class, or indeed classless, lifestyle and as a key ingredient in ideological constructs such as the American or Australian dream or the British property-owning democracy. In both specialist housing debates and within mainstream discussions in sociology or politics there has been increasing interest in the significance of home ownership in processes of social restratification and political realignment. From a variety of perspectives there is a strong message of societies entering a new and qualitatively distinct period of social change. Whether or not these changes (for example, described as postFordist or postmodern) are indeed occurring on any scale is open to debate. However, whatever the theoretical formulation the spread of individual ownership of dwellings is appropriated as a symptom of such change. And it is the evident and measurable spread of personal wealth in the form of dwellings which is often a principal element of this interest in the social significance of mass home ownership.