Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Sole Voices: Experiences of Non-Home-Owning Sole Mother Renters

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Sole Voices: Experiences of Non-Home-Owning Sole Mother Renters

Article excerpt


Housing is both a key indicator of, and contributor to, social advantage/disadvantage. Opportunities for wealth creation, affordability, sense of security and belonging to community and place, level of choice, self-esteem and self-determination are all linked to housing and, more specifically, to tenure type with its resulting (and often hidden) inequity. Issues relating to affordability and availability of housing have come to the forefront in recent times, with Australian property prices rising beyond the means of many low-income households leaving some groups excluded from achieving the sought after goal of home ownership. In this paper, I explore the impact of non-home ownership on a particularly significant and disadvantaged social group, sole mother families who do not own their homes and who subsequently rent their housing. A key concern addressed in this paper is the notion of home itself and how achieving a sense of home can be problematic when renting.

Key words: affordability; tenure; renting; exclusion; sole mothers


Home has many meanings: enfolding, safe, strong and warm ... Before it can be recreated there is a limbo of [psychological] homelessness that kindles deep anxiety. The strangeness, confusion and disorganisation of transition threaten the sense of competence that is a cornerstone of self-esteem. Home is an extension of self, expressing taste, experience and values; affirming continuity; representing identity to others... The state of feeling at home includes, but extends beyond, the dwelling to physical milieu, neighbourhood and town. (McCollum 1990: 22)

Even though the concept of home is instantly familiar, it is not easy to define. In our everyday lives we hear and recognise, and indeed probably use, sayings like 'there's no place like home', 'home is where the heart is' and the gender specific 'a man's home is his castle'. The last expression raises concerns from a feminist perspective - what is a woman's understanding of home? Is a woman's home also her castle? Ambivalence regarding the relationship between women and home has been noted within feminist analyses as a combination of a nurturing environment and a place where resentment can be experienced due to the demands of the house (Darke 1994; Young 2003).

Gurney (as cited in Clapham 2005) studied gender differences in the meaning of home and concluded that women's experiences of home is often more complex than that of men's. Cooper-Marcus (1997) claimed that for a woman especially, home is paramount. She highlighted one participant's response to her research that involved people's personal associations with the house:

After 18 years of putting energy into her setting, she wasn't prepared to start again somewhere else, although friends advised her to get a smaller place. 'They didn't understand that this house was more than just living in it and having shelter'. Very few people understand that an environment for a woman is not just somewhere to sleep and have a roof over your head ... It means your life. (Cooper-Marcus 1997: 228)

One reason that home may be especially important for women is that women are more likely to be the primary care givers of young children than men (Office for Women [OfW] 2010); women feel a responsibility to create a permanent and secure home environment for their children (Dumont as cited in Mulroy 1995).

Nevertheless, for both women and men, home is more than a physical dwelling; it is also a space that provides security, privacy, control, choice and a sense of belonging. Therefore, along with the physical structure of the dwelling, a person's association with home is linked to 'social capital' concerns, such as feelings of either connection with, or alienation from, community and place. For instance, McCollum (1990) claimed that 'the state of feeling at home extends beyond the dwelling to ... neighbourhood and town' (p 22). …

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