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NOT TONIGHT, I HAVE A MORTGAGE : Less Sex? More Money? Must Be a Homeowner

June 04, 1995|KENNETH R. HARNEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — The secret is finally out from behind closed doors: American homeowners have a lot more arguments with their spouses--and less frequent sex--than renters.

By their own admission, homeowners cope less well than renters with the pressures of child-rearing. They're frazzled by the extra household chores that get loaded on top of their regular employment.

And homeowners aren't nearly as sociable as renters. They are less likely to spend evenings with their neighbors, co-workers, friends or relatives than people who rent their dwellings.

But there's a flip side: Homeowners are much more likely than renters to describe themselves as happy with their lives. They're more self-confident, more upbeat, healthier and richer: They've got more money in the bank, more money stashed in mutual funds, higher personal incomes and are far less likely than renters to have unpaid bills sitting around 90 days past due.

Sound like a mixed review of the personal implications of homeownership? It is indeed, according to the findings of the first national statistical portrait of homeowners and how they differ from renters. Prepared by Peter H. Rossi and Eleanor Weber of the University of Massachusetts' Social and Demographic Research Institute, the study analyzed data from interviews conducted with thousands of American households over a six-year period.

One of the databases involved a sample of 13,000 households who participated in "lengthy, elaborate face-to-face interviews" focusing on "family and fertility issues." Another was comprised of interviews with samples of 1,500 households annually between 1988 and 1993. The entire study was presented last month at a housing conference here sponsored by Fannie Mae.

Co-authors Rossi and Weber said some of their findings challenge traditional assumptions about the benefits of homeownership. For example, the research found that owners and renters do not differ much in their levels of satisfaction with their neighborhoods, nor do they differ about how safe they feel when walking at night in their neighborhoods.

Then there's the issue of marital bliss. Rossi said he wouldn't speculate about why married homeowners report significantly higher rates of "spousal disagreement" and lower frequency of sexual intercourse. All the study suggests is that one of the apparently inescapable facts about owning and maintaining a home is that it "requires more work." Owners have to spend more time and energy on household chores, and guess which spouse bears the overwhelming time burdens of that extra work?

You got it. "The increased housework for [home] owning wives," say Rossi and Weber, "is not matched by an increase in the work done by husbands. Owners and renters claim that husbands spend about the same numbers of hours in that activity." In other words, husbands who rent and husbands who own put in about the same amount of time on chores.

Wives who co-own homes are shouldering proportionately more of the total household work than those who rent. So no wonder there are more arguments and less spare time for lovemaking. Are you guys out there listening?

Some other findings that emerge from the Rossi-Weber study:

--Owners and renters do not differ statistically in their political party identifications--Republican or Democrat--nor in their position on the liberal-to-conservative ideological spectrum. Owners, however, are more likely to read newspapers--a source of more detailed political information than TV or radio. They're also a lot more likely to be able to correctly name their congressional representatives, their state governor and local school superintendent.

--Owners tend to be a lot more involved in local community politics than renters. They're much more likely to serve as officers of local improvement groups, give money to community organizations and attend meetings sponsored by such groups. They're also more active in lobbying state and local officials on issues that concern them. Ironically, though, homeowners are less likely than renters to believe that local officials actually listen to people like themselves.

--Living in a home owned rather than rented by their families apparently has benefits for children. Citing separate statistical studies focused solely on children, Rossi and Weber found that sons and daughters of home-owning families are 3% to 15% less likely to drop out of school, no matter what their family income level or race. Home-owning families also had 3% to 5% lower adolescent female pregnancy rates than renters, again factoring out race and income. Adolescents from home-owning families were also less likely to be arrested by police than children from families who rent.

The Rossi-Weber study didn't explore some of the best-known and documented financial benefits of owning a home, ranging from tax deductions to enhancing personal net worth through equity accumulation. The bottom line appears to be this: There are plenty of empirically verifiable reasons to buy rather than rent.

But if you expect true personal bliss as an owner, you better be prepared to work--and to better allocate the burdens of household chores.

Distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group.

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