If the population's age characteristics are considered, a smaller percentage of Americans likely now own homes across most age groups

590 house REUTERS Lucy Nicholson.jpg

The Decennial Census released some interesting information last week that got little attention. It declared that in 2010, the homeownership rate was just 65.1%. This is well below other survey estimates that put it closer to 67%. And if you adjust the data for the aging population, it appears to imply that the effective homeowership rate is even lower across many age groups than in 1990 -- before the housing bubble began.

This point was made at Calculated Risk, based on data compiled by economist Tom Lawler. Here are his results, in a chart:

homeownership census 2011-05 v2.png

Above, the red bars are the actual percentages as provided by each respective Decennial Census. By those estimates, the home ownership rate jumped in 2000 (when the housing bubble was being inflated) and fell in 2010 (after it popped). But at 65.1%, it was still higher in 2010 than in 1990, when it was at 64.2%.

Lawler thinks it's instructive to adjust for the aging population. Doing so is a little complicated. Within seven age segments, he considers the percentage of each segment that is a head-of-household and each segment's homeownership rates. Unfortunately, this data is not available for 2010 at this time. But he uses the 1990 and 2000 age-segment data for homeownership and "headship" rates to back into what the effective aggregate homeownership rates would be in each of these decades if the populations were roughly the same age as it is now.

His results are in pink above. What this chart tells us is that, if the populations in 1990 and 2000 were aged as they were in 2010, then their aggregate homeownership rates would have been higher, as shown. The idea here is that an aging population generally exhibits a higher rate of homeownership, for somewhat obvious reasons. But despite the population aging, the homeownership rate hasn't kept up. Lawler explains:

If 2010 headship rates and homeownership rates for each age group had been the same as in 1990, the US homeownership rate would have been 66.7% instead of 65.1%. If 2010 headship rates and homeownership rates had been the same as in 2000, the US homeownership rate would have been 67.3%!

Why might this be the case? There are a number of possible reasons. All must boil down to the headship rates and/or homeownership rates of each group looking quite different in 2010 compared to what they looked like at the start of the prior two decades.

One piece of the puzzle could be that the headship rate is actually rising among younger generations, because people are waiting longer to marry than they did 20 years ago. This could be neutralizing some of the heavier weighting of older segments.

But as Lawler says, one likely reason is that "in 2010 the homeownership rate for most age groups was probably below 1990 rates." In particular, it was likely lower for older age groups.

Image Credit: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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