American Houses Are Really Big

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 23 2012 3:56 PM

American Houses Are Really Big

1345751780714

Lam Thuy Vo observes that though the median size of newly built homes has dipped a little bit from its peak level, we're still building houses that are quite large by historical standards. I would also add that Americans have extremely large houses by international standards.

Some policy thoughts on this:

Advertisement

One thing you're seeing here is the home mortgage interest tax deduction at work. This is often described as a program to encourage homeownership, but the homeowner/renter margin is a pretty small element of the impact. A much bigger impact is that it encourages every homeowner in America, at the margin, to buy a slightly larger house than would otherwise be the case and therefore encourages homebuilders to build slightly larger houses. There's nothing wrong with big houses, but it's far from clear why you would specifically want the tax code to encourage big houses rather than fancy cars or expensive rugs or whatever else people might buy in a neutral environment.

This is also a case of it being useful to actually disaggregate the elements of living standards rather than talking about broad averages. Americans are affording bigger houses even as family size is dropping, even as finding a place to live in certain specific cities has gotten less affordable than ever.

You can also see that there are going to be some problems with new development in cities that haven't updated their zoning code since the 50s or 60s—a very common scenario. Rules about building height and lot occupancy were written with certain ideas in mind about how many people could be accommodated in such structures. But as America gets richer, people want bigger dwellings meaning that old codes are accommodating fewer people than their authors had in mind.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 18 2014 3:31 PM What Europe Would Look Like If All the Separatist Movements Got Their Way
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 3:24 PM Symantec Removes Its “Sexual Orientation” Filter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 3:55 PM Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 2:39 PM Here's How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.