Modelling housing career trajectories in Great Britain

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

1. Aims
This project aims to develop our understanding of how people's pathways through the housing market are changing in 21st Century Britain.

2. Background
The 2017 Housing White Paper noted that many Britons cannot access suitable housing and it committed the government to "fixing our broken housing market". A key problem is that a growing proportion of people are unable to 'progress' along a traditional housing career path by moving into homeownership, more desirable neighbourhoods and accumulating housing wealth as they age. This creates intra- and inter-generational inequalities in wealth holdings and quality of life.

Public debates about Generation Rent highlight how demographic change, economic pressure (e.g. low incomes, student debt and job insecurity) and constrained housing affordability have caused young adults' housing position to deteriorate in recent decades. Younger cohorts of adults are finding it harder than previous generations to enter homeownership and 'trade up' to more desirable dwellings and neighbourhoods. This means that social mobility in the housing system is declining as young people's housing attainments become increasingly dependent on whether they have access to family support.

At the same time, there is longstanding policy concern that housing wealth is becoming more unevenly distributed across Britain as homeowners in prosperous areas reap gains from house price inflation that are denied to renters and owners in less buoyant places. These disparities could have an adverse impact on population mobility and also destabilise the future funding basis for pensions, welfare and social care.

Data constraints mean that there are significant deficiencies in the evidence underpinning these debates. Many studies do not look at inequalities between individuals' housing career development as they rely on data from surveys conducted at one point in time. Furthermore, small samples and the limited wealth measures in most datasets impede knowledge of (i) geographical patterns in housing attainments as well as disparities in (ii) who accumulates housing wealth with age.

3. Research design
This study will overcome these issues by examining generational, socioeconomic and spatial disparities in housing careers through interrelated analyses of ESRC supported surveys and consumer Big Data pertaining to almost the entire adult population over a 20-year period. The project will answer the following question: how do patterns of housing career trajectories - defined in terms of (i) dwelling ownership status, (ii) level of neighbourhood (dis)advantage and (iii) housing wealth holdings - vary across birth cohorts, socioeconomic groups and space?

Data analysis will be divided into two strands. Strand 1 will use survey data to build detailed models of the housing career progression and wealth trajectories of different population groups since 1998. These results will be fed forward into Strand 2, which will harness Electoral and Consumer Register Big Data pre-prepared at UCL to describe, model and visualize patterns of housing career development across the entire adult population of Great Britain.

4. Benefits to society
This project will deliver several public benefits that align with ESRC's aim to support socially relevant research in the priority field of housing:

a. An improved understanding of the origins and nature of housing wealth inequalities. This will inform national and local policy and public debates about housing, property taxation, and how to finance welfare and social care.

b. New evidence about 'Generation Rent' and intergenerational/social divisions in housing opportunities. This will inform debates about social mobility and the policy measures needed to promote greater intergenerational fairness.

c. A technical assessment of the value and representational challenges of using consumer data for housing research. This will improve the uptake of this research resource.

Planned Impact

This project comes at an auspicious moment as housing issues and social mobility are currently central to public debate and the domestic public policy agenda. By following the Pathways to Impact, we will exploit this favourable context to deliver multiple benefits for several stakeholder groups:

1. National and local policymakers

Robust knowledge about how housing careers are themselves evolving over time for different population subgroups will (i) allow policymakers in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) - as well as politicians from opposition parties - to design, evaluate and critique policy interventions that are intended to influence people's homeownership outcomes (e.g. Help to Buy or the case for a reinvigorated Right to Buy). MHCLG have identified this type of analysis to be one of their core Areas of Research Interest during this government. Policymakers will also benefit from (ii) a deeper understanding of patterns of housing wealth accumulation over the life course as this has financial implications across government ministries (e.g. for designing how to fund the welfare system, pensions provision and social care in both the short- and long-term). Our analysis of spatial divergence in housing career trajectories will yield (iii) insights about geographically uneven taxation of property and so could be of interest to local government policymakers.

More generally, (iv) understanding housing wealth trajectories is essential for policymakers seeking to evaluate and tackle intergenerational inequality and social mobility. This issue is currently rising up the political agenda - e.g. through the work of the ongoing House of Lords Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee.

Methodologically, (v) our work coupling social survey and big data analysis to understand the housing market could produce best practice insights for policymakers seeking new ways to track housing dynamics between censuses.

2. Think tanks, charities and pressure groups

Housing is central to the research and 'influencing' activities of think tanks from across the political spectrum (for example Demos, IPPR, Policy Exchange and the Resolution Foundation), as well as charitable organisations including JRF and Shelter. However, resource, staffing and time constraints typically prevent these organisations from commissioning or conducting the complex modelling of secure access datasets that are planned in this project. Project results on housing career disparities will therefore be disseminated to feed into their (i) research agendas and (ii) yield insights to improve the targeting of lobbying activities.

Pressure groups such as Generation Rent and PricedOut would also benefit from up-to-date evidence about the housing difficulties confronting recent cohorts of younger adults. Project insights could therefore improve their lobbying activities and public engagement strategies.

3. Organisations involved in housing supply

Demand side planning for organizations involved in the private ownership (e.g. developers, mortgage lenders) and social sectors (e.g. housing associations and the National Housing Federation) would benefit from project insights on the structure of housing careers and patterns of residential 'filtering' across Britain. Models of property wealth holdings and accumulation trajectories could be valuable to financial businesses (e.g. firms represented by UK Finance), for example those seeking to design and market equity release products.

4. General public

There is currently an intense public interest in housing issues and housing debates regularly feature in the popular press. Dissemination of project findings will inform these debates and thus help the public hold policymakers to account, for example over a lack of social mobility in the housing system.

Publications

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