Family trajectories and young adults' transitions into homeownership: A longitudinal perspective

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography


This project aims to understand how family trajectories influence the nature and timing of young adults' transitions into homeownership. In Britain, recent policy interventions such as Help to Buy have reignited debate about the growing difficulties faced by young adults seeking to become homeowners. Declining rates of young adult homeownership are frequently seen as a social problem preventing people from achieving security, freedom and community roots (Wallace, 2010). Homeownership is also promoted as a way to accumulate wealth, thereby enhancing prosperity and enabling society to finance pensions and care as the population ages.

While there is a consensus that young adults are increasingly delaying homeownership because of declining affordability, credit constraints and insecure jobs (Andrew, 2012), the impact of family structures and ties remains more uncertain. Demographic changes such as increased solo living, rising rates of lone parenthood and more complex partnership biographies are all likely to have consequences for young adults' housing careers. Concerns have also been voiced that house price inflation means that family wealth is rapidly becoming a prerequisite for first-time homeownership, potentially impeding social mobility. As a result, this project seeks to re-examine how family trajectories and resources influence young adults' housing careers, focusing particularly on homeownership transitions. By analysing how family trajectories, economic forces and the housing system interact to affect young adults' access to homeownership, this research will provide evidence about social fluidity in contemporary Britain.

To fulfil the objective I will conduct two linked strands of research. Strand 1 will describe and explain changes in the long-term tenure pathways of young adults. This strand will address two questions:
1. To what extent are homeownership rates across young adulthood lower for more recent birth cohorts?
2. How are young adults' transitions into homeownership linked to family trajectories?
These will be answered by using descriptive techniques and multilevel models to analyse data from the ONS Longitudinal Study (1971-2011).

The second strand will focus on understanding the timing and effects of young adults' homeownership transitions. Answers will be sought to three questions:
3. To what extent are young adults increasingly delaying first-time homeownership?
4. How do partnership biographies affect the timing of young adults' entry into homeownership?
5. Does entering homeownership in young adulthood confer subjective benefits?
These questions will be answered by using event history and fixed effects models to analyse data from the British Household Panel Survey (1991-2008) and Understanding Society (2009+). To interrogate how political-economic contexts configure homeownership transitions, I will also conduct similar analyses using comparable panel data from other countries (with guidance from international collaborators).

This project will contribute to knowledge by theorising the neglected links between contextual forces, family trajectories and housing careers. By analysing how access to homeownership configures social mobility, the project will also extend our understanding of social stratification. These contributions will be delivered through journal articles, academic presentations and hosting a small conference (2017).

The project aims to also have impacts outside academia. By establishing a User Forum, hosting two workshops (2016 and 2017) and producing briefing papers, the study will inform policymakers (eg. the Department for Communities and Local Government) and extend the housing research streams of third sector organisations (eg. the Joseph Rowntree Foundation). Through online dissemination and public outreach activities, my work will be positioned to contribute to public debate about the role of homeownership in British society.

Planned Impact

In the aftermath of the economic crisis, housing policy has risen up the British political agenda and become the focus of public debate (Jones, 2013). Much attention has been directed towards the difficulties of accessing homeownership and how this could have long-term consequences for economic vitality and the equitable distribution of resources (Willetts, 2011). This project is therefore well placed to benefit non-academic actors. By following my Pathways to Impact, my research will benefit multiple non-academic actors in a range of ways over the duration of the project and into the longer-term.

(1) National policymakers
Current Westminster policy promotes homeownership, for instance through Help to Buy and the renewal of Right to Buy (DCLG, 2011; HM Treasury, 2013). Thorough analysis of the factors causing young adults to delay homeownership will therefore help policymakers to (a) devise interventions to assist homeownership transitions or help people to live fulfilling lives in other tenures. This is becoming an increasing concern amongst voters (PricedOut, 2013). Analysing young adults' transitions to homeownership in other countries will (b) help policy formulation by providing comparative evidence on the impacts of economic, welfare and housing systems.

Analysing how tenure trajectories have changed over time will also (c) help policymakers to decide whether establishing a 'homeownership society' is a realistic goal (Clark, 2013). By (d) exploring intergenerational continuities in homeownership, my study will provide evidence of the necessity of 'joined-up' policymaking on social mobility. This could inform the policymaking process.

(2) Think tanks/NGOs
Given that housing is many households' largest asset and expenditure, it is unsurprising that think tanks and NGOs are concerned about access to homeownership. The New Economics Foundation (NEF), Smith Institute and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) are all conducting or commissioning work on homeownership. My project will inform these organisations by providing robust evidence on how housing pathways are changing over time. This will help them to (a) formulate their lobbying strategies to influence policy and create a fairer society while (b) focusing their research agendas.

(3) Housing charities
Greater awareness of changing tenure pathways and access to homeownership will benefit resource-limited charities such as Shelter. Shelter are deeply concerned about a growing 'housing affordability crisis' and will therefore benefit from analyses of how housing prices, costs and policy interventions have reshaped homeownership transitions. This information could help them to (a) lobby policymakers to increase support for young adults and (b) help them to target their support services to provide relevant advice to people seeking to attain homeownership.

(4) The public
There is currently huge public interest in housing issues, fuelled by media debates about 'Generation Rent' and campaigns for affordable housing (PricedOut, 2013). Wide dissemination of my research on changing housing pathways will (a) inform the public about the realities of accessing homeownership in contemporary Britain. Comparing changing housing pathways across different Western countries will also (b) raise awareness of alternative forms of welfare and housing provision. Taken together, these impacts will (c) help the public hold policymakers to account.

(5) Property developers/housing associations
By highlighting the barriers preventing young adults from entering homeownership, my research could (a) benefit property developers by helping them to identify households requiring tailored support to enter and sustain homeownership. This information may also (b) be of value to housing associations and non-profit landlords, enabling them to make informed investment decisions based upon an appreciation of latent demand.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/L009498/1 01/11/2014 31/05/2017 £215,980
ES/L009498/2 Transfer ES/L009498/1 01/06/2017 31/10/2017 £34,662
Description The research funded by this award supported three sets of discoveries and developments:

1. New insights and evidence

Longitudinal analysis of the ONS Longitudinal Study and panel survey data produced a number of key findings. First, modelling work showed that (1) parental housing tenure independently influences young adults' housing trajectories in England and Wales as the children of renters are more likely to rent later in life than their peers with parents who own their home. This trend is not new but has strengthened in recent decades. Moreover, (2) disparities in young people's homeownership by parental background are more pronounced in parts of the country where housing is expensive than in areas where housing is cheaper. However, overall young adults' partnership, job and educational pathways remain more influential predictors of their housing career development than parental variables.

In addition, my research (2) documented growing social disparities in which young adults are raising children in the private rented sector and (3) showed that partnership events (formation and dissolution) are extremely important triggers for moves in and out of homeownership in early adulthood. Internationally comparative analysis published in Housing Studies shows that partnership is a more potent factor in young people's homeownership transitions in Britain than in Germany where most people rent privately and enter homeownership later in life. Finally, (4) initially unplanned research suggested early in the project by non-academic users has revealed how young people's family circumstances and local housing market conditions influence when they leave home.

Taken together these findings have improved our understanding of the role families play in young people's housing careers. This is a topic I am continuing to work on.

2. Capacity building

The Future Research Leaders grant enabled me and the Research Assistant (Dr Sait Bayrakdar) to develop our experience with statistical software including Stata, R and MLwiN. The funding also supported skills development training in event history analysis, multilevel modelling and strategies for handling missing data in social surveys. This new expertise helped project personnel secure jobs at University College London (Rory Coulter) and Kings College London (Sait Bayrakdar) when the grant expired.

3. Collaborations and research networks

This grant allowed me to collaborate with international experts on housing (Dr Caroline Dewilde, Tilburg University and Professor William Clark, UCLA). This has improved my research skills and generated some of the research findings and publications associated with the grant that are described above. As part of the grant project, I also successfully set up a new working group on Housing and Family Dynamics under the auspices of the European Network for Housing Research. This working group is now flourishing and aims to galvanise further collaborative research on the topic area (
Exploitation Route My findings suggest several important new research avenues for academics. As fewer young people are becoming homeowners and there is an inherited social gradient in homeownership transitions, further work should examine the impacts that renting privately (the majority alternative tenure) for long periods of time has on inter alia (i) living standards and wealth; (ii) well-being and security; (iii) family formation decisions and (iv) social/political attitudes. Linking this to the other challenges young people face from student debts and changing labour market conditions could also be useful.

My work will also be of interest to policymakers, housing providers and third sector groups who are trying to devise policy responses to help young people in the housing system, either through schemes designed to ease home purchase or through private rented sector reforms. Further work comparing what impacts the diverging housing policies of the devolved UK administrations are having on young people's housing is now an important priority. Finally, my evidence of geographical differences in housing careers warrants further investigation and it would be useful to know if polarised housing markets stop people from migrating for work and/or study.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description This project aimed to contribute to the development of a fairer society by generating new evidence about the links between young people's family trajectories, housing pathways and homeownership transitions. The research has had societal impacts in two main areas: 1. Policymaking processes All key project findings and their implications for housing policy and practice were written up into six short 'policy briefs' (available in perpetuity from Each year these were discussed with the project's non-academic User Forum and in 2015 the early briefing papers were passed round the Department for Communities and Local Government by a senior civil servant forum member. At this time, the department were particularly interested in enhancing social mobility in the housing system and project evidence about how family background impacts on young people's access to homeownership was reported to be a timely contribution to internal policy discussions on this topic. Early findings on intergenerational continuities in housing tenure were also shared with civil servant researchers at the 2015 Government Social Research conference. This led to useful conversations with civil servants about how ONS/ESRC supported data resources like the ONS Longitudinal Study could be used to examine housing policy issues like unequal access to homeownership and downsizing. Research evidence on young people's pathways into homeownership were also presented and disseminated to policymakers at events in 2017 (policy workshop in St Andrews and a workshop on young adults' housing challenges in London), as well as online to the wider public via the project website and social media feed from 2015 to 2017. A 2018 article in ESRC Society Now magazine provided further dissemination of key findings to a broad lay audience. Project research findings and recommendations were submitted as written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision. This resulted in a citation in the committee's report to the government: Achieving the policy impacts outlined in the original application was complicated by the shifts in priority that accompanied the frequent changes of housing minister and government during the grant's lifetime (2014-2017). This lack of continuity meant that research suggested as very relevant for housing policy at one User Forum was not always still top of the policy agenda by the time the work had been completed. To overcome this challenge, all policy briefs are available online and I will continue to work to disseminate my findings and translate them into more tangible policy impacts in my new academic role at UCL. 2. Non-academic research, lobbying and housing provision Between 2014 and 2016 I had a number of one-to-one meetings with civil servants and representatives from housing providers (e.g. Places for People) organised through the Centre for Science and Policy at Cambridge. At these meetings we discussed project findings and Places for People's Research Director subsequently reported that this had helped shape their research agenda. Project evidence on (1) inherited social inequalities in young people's access to homeownership and (2) which young people raise children in the private rental sector were also discussed at 2017 meeting with a Resolution Foundation researcher. These issues were subsequently highlighted as pressing policy challenges in the Resolution Foundation's Intergenerational Commission report published in May 2018. Dissemination and discussion of research findings with representatives from a range of third sector organisations (including Shelter, the Royal Institute of Town Planning, the National Housing Federation, London Youth, Peabody and Generation Rent) took place at a 2017 policy workshop in London co-organised with Places for People. Quantitative and qualitative event feedback indicated that participants subsequently felt their knowledge of the topic had improved (100% of responding delegates agreed/strongly agreed with this statement) and a majority reported that the event was likely to influence their subsequent work (60% of responding delegates agreed/strongly agreed with this statement). I am continuing to liaise with stakeholders who attended the event and developing a strong network of non-academic partners to assist in the design and dissemination of future housing research is likely to be one of the most enduring impacts of this grant. The public importance of housing issues and my continued research in this field mean that I am continuing to work to translate project findings into societal impacts. Further details of evolving impacts will be added to these grant report pages in due course.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Citation in House of Lords Select Committee Report on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision (25/4/19)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description NCRM travel bursary
Amount £433 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 01/2017
Description GSS/GESR conference 2015 (London, 18/09/15) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presented work on how family background shapes young adults' homeownership in England and Wales to 40-50 civil servants from across government departments at the Government Social Research/Government Economic Service 2015 annual conference. Invited to speak by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Longitudinal Study team to showcase (a) the richness of their data resources and (b) demonstrate how these can and are being used to produce socially relevant research.

The talk stimulated a debate about housing inequality, how best to measure/address it, and I subsequently had discussions with both the ONS team and several government researchers about new ways to link together secondary data to better understand housing outcomes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description LS Stronger Towns event (19/7/19) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation of LS research findings on young adults' homeownership transitions to a policy workshop on Stronger Towns (July 2019) organised by Celsius. The audience consisted of delegates from civil service research units, third sector organisations, think tanks and other academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Plenary talk on austerity and housing inequality in young adulthood (RGS-IBG preconference workshop) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to present project research work as part of a plenary workshop held before the RGS-IBG 2018 Annual Conference in Cardiff. This talk was delivered to an audience of around 50 academics, postgraduate students, policymaking professionals and commentators. The talk sparked questions and discussion and potentially generated interest in the topic. In 2019 I will be writing a public facing blog derived from this talk for the PGRG website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Project website, blog and briefing papers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A project website, blog and RSS feed were set up by R Coulter in late 2014 to stimulate public interest in the research topic. The website was subsequently maintained by S Bayrakdar until it was archived as a Wordpress site when the project expired. The project website had two principal aims:

1. The website hosted all relevant project resources and outputs including accessible policy briefing papers, a blog and a workshop report.
2. A dedicated Twitter and RSS feed linked to the website helped to raise public awareness of the research topic and promote informed debates about families and housing.

From 2014 to 2017 project developments were further publicised through the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge's social media channels.

In September 2016 R Coulter was invited to write an accessible blog post summarising project research on young adults' homeownership for the Urban Studies journal blog:
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018
Description Research and Policy Symposium (St Andrews) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In May 2017 the project co-hosted a Research and Policy Symposium on Families and Housing at the University of St Andrews. To maximise value for money the event was organised in collaboration with another ESRC grant project [ES/L01663X/1, PI Professor Hill Kulu]. The event consisted of a day of academic presentations to a mixed audience of researchers and policy professionals (from organisations including the National Records for Scotland, British Society for Population Studies, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UNECE). This was followed by a roundtable style policy discussion led by non-academics. The event was organised to disseminate research findings and stimulate interaction and collaborations with non-academics. Project talks stimulated questions and debate, and delegates were provided with a policy brief pack containing research summaries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Society Now article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I produced a short summary of project research findings for the autumn 2018 edition of ESRC Society Now magazine. This magazine is distributed to thousands of subscribers and the article concisely conveyed the key outcomes of my project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description User Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Discussed research project at annual intervals with a non-academic User Forum comprising active participants from the Department for Communities and Local Government (Scott Dennison, Deputy Director and Head of Strategic Analysis), local government (Jane Kennedy, Research Business Manager, London Borough of Newham) and Shelter (Rachael Emmett, Research Officer). Research project findings were also discussed and disseminated through ad hoc Centre for Science and Policy meetings to policymakers and housing practitioners such as Tom Tolfree (Senior Government Economist with the Department for Communities and Local Government) and Roger Wilshaw (Research Director, Places for People).

These meetings (a) stimulated increased interest in project research and (b) shaped the direction of the project. Short tailored briefing papers summarising key findings were also circulated to forum members for discussion and dissemination across their professional networks.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017
Description Workshop on Young Adults' Housing (Places for People, 12/9/17) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We held a project policy workshop on the afternoon of September 12th 2017. The event was hosted in collaboration with Roger Wilshaw (Research Director, Places For People) at Places For Peoples' offices in London. The workshop involved project talks and short presentations from other academics and non-academics followed by a general moderated discussion. Delegates attended from the London Assembly, Centrepoint, Peabody Housing, British Property Federation, Resolution Foundation, The Royal Town Planning Institute, Generation Rent, National Housing Foundation, Shelter, London Youth, Young Foundation and UK Finance. There was a lively discussion and delegates reported increased interest in the topic and better knowledge of the challenges facing young people in the housing system. A short feedback survey at the end of the event indicated that a clear majority of delegates felt that the event was interesting, useful and that the research presented could influence their future work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017