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Housing markets and welfare state transformations: How family housing property is reshaping welfare regimes

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Project Overview

In February 2012 a new five-year research project was launched in the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam, funded through the European Research Council’s Starter’s Grant Scheme. Abbreviated to the moniker HOUWEL, this study is concerned with housing  markets and welfare state transformations, and looks to how family housing property practices have interacted with different welfare regimes.

The starting point of this project is the emerging reliance on housing markets and family housing property as an alternative to welfare state provision across advanced societies. While family owned housing has been an implicit part of welfare provision in many societies, it has, in recent years, gained a broader significance along with state restructuring in public spending and housing market transformations. This study aims to advance understanding of how emerging socioeconomic conditions, in which housing markets have assumed a more prominent role, are forging new welfare system pathways and types of welfare state. The total project seeks to achieve this understanding through a comparison of six countries: England, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Romania. These societies represent more or less typical cases of contemporary housing and welfare regimes. Based on the observations above, comparisons are to be carried out in each country that address the following core questions:

  • How, and to what extent, have different welfare regimes focused housing provision and consumption around market-centred forms of home ownership?
  • How has this been a means to support welfare system restructuring?
  • How have households been (re)oriented around home purchase as a way to build up resources to support their own economic security and well-being, and has economic security been enhanced or undermined by increased investment in private housing property?
  • How are post-crisis transformations in socioeconomic conditions restructuring social inequalities in terms of access, exclusion or exposure to housing markets?


HOUWEL seeks to integrate theories of welfare regimes with debates on housing systems, markets and policy. The study has fundamental implications for understanding pre and post-crisis developments in welfare capitalism, as well as divergent reactions and responses between regimes. It is probable, considering current fiscal pressures on national budgets and demographic changes in dependency ratios between young and old, that residualisation in welfare provision will continue. Moreover, this is likely to accentuate market and family provision further, with greater emphasis on family property assets and housing investments as means to sure-up welfare self-reliance. Thus, while the second half of the last century featured decline in the family base of welfare in favour of collective provision, this trend appears to be reversing in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, along with growing demands on the family as a welfare provider, a reorientation in family life is also occurring. This involves, on the one hand, a rise in one-person households, lone-parent and childless couples, and on the other, greater pressure on the family as a means of support with an increase in multigenerational and reconstituted families/households, and adult children staying on indefinitely in the natal home.