Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Better Homes and Families: Housing Markets and Young Couple Stability in Sweden

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Better Homes and Families: Housing Markets and Young Couple Stability in Sweden

Article excerpt

I model the relationship between aspects of the housing market influenced by housing policy and couple stability for cohabiting couples in Sweden. Using data on 3,851 cohabiting couples obtained from the Swedish Family Survey of 1992, I examine the effects of housing market characteristics on couple outcomes. I focus on three housing variables, including the affordability of housing, the availability of detached housing, and the profitability of ownership. I link these variables to the transitions from cohabitation to marriage or separation in Sweden. Policy relevant aspects of the housing market are shown to have significant effects on the stability of couples in Sweden. Greater affordability increases couple stability. Intriguingly, greater availability of detached housing significantly weakens couple stability.

Key Words: cohabitation, demography, family policy, housing, stability, Western Europe.

Connecting housing policy to family dynamics has a long history in sociological literature, extending throughout the 20th century. This discussion came early in Sweden, where the influential book by Alva and Gunnar Myrdal (1934/1997), Kris i befolkningsfrågan (Crisis in the Population Question) set the stage for subsequent linking between housing policy and desired family outcomes (Andersson, 2002; Kälvemark, 1980). Similar discussions linking housing policy to designs for strengthening families have taken place in the United States and Europe from the 1960s (Glazer, 1967; Wilner, 1962) through the present (Bratt, 2002; Shlay, 1995). Unfortunately, empirical evidence evaluating links between housing and family outcomes remains relatively sparse. Although several articles have attempted to link housing policy to health and psychological well-being, very few have measured how housing policy might actually strengthen or weaken families as units (Bratt; Murphy, 1985; Shlay, 1995). As Glazer discusses in his seminal article in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, both the complexity of housing policy and the complexity of concepts surrounding family dynamics make linking the two particularly difficult.

Here I revisit Glazer (1967), attempting to model relationships between policy-relevant aspects of the housing market and couple stability in Sweden. I draw upon the literature to focus on measuring three key aspects of the housing market influenced by housing policy. Notably, the literature provides a set of competing expectations surrounding each key aspect of the housing market, with various theorists providing or implying opposite predictions of the expected relationship between housing variables and family stability. I attempt to provide empirical evidence bearing upon these competing hypotheses, modeling the relationships between key aspects of the housing market and the strengthening or weakening of couples as family units. To measure couple stability, I follow cohabiting couples over time in Sweden. I assume that marriage represents a strengthening of couple stability, whereas separation represents a weakening or destruction of couple stability.


In discussing the effects of housing policy, researchers in the past have often failed to operationalize family well-being (Bratt, 2002; Glazer, 1967; Shlay, 1995). In other cases, family wellbeing has been defined and measured cross-sectionally with respect to health and psychological measurements of well-being (Edwards, Booth, & Klobus Edwards, 1982; Nettleton & Burrows, 1998), but without regard to measuring observable strengthening or weakening of couple stability. Studies have linked home ownership to reduced risks of divorce in a variety of contexts (Bracher, Santow, Morgan, & Trussel, 1993; Jalovaara, 2001; Murphy, 1985; Wagner, 1997). Yet by focusing on divorce, these authors have only considered the weakening of couple stability. Moreover, their findings with regard to housing were treated as minor footnotes or proxy measures of social class rather than explored as meaningful indicators of how housing policy might intersect with family policy (Jalovaara; Murphy). …

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