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

Research Project

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 HOUWEL Project

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.

  • Project I - Regimes & Systems

    Dr. R. Ronald / C. Lennartz

    This project aims to examine the interactions of welfare states and housing systems and explore the broader relations and pathways that constitute different welfare systems and regimes. This is achieved in two ways. First, a quantitative comparison of aggregate data on housing systems as well as employment, demographic and welfare variables at the national level will provide a quantitative framework for understanding changing system relationships in each context and convergent and divergent trends. Second, a combination of studies that compare the arrangement and development of institutional frameworks will address differentiated progress in deregulation, marketization and privatization and how they have reshaped the features and operation of housing markets and home ownership in social and welfare systems. The former and latter are divided as research foci between the postdoctoral researcher and the PI, respectively, but will be pursued concurrently with the findings of each informing the progress of the other. This examination of institutional constellations in the six countries will be used to contextualize aggregate data and develop a more complex model of welfare regime diversity, incorporating housing markets and family housing property as a welfare pillar.  

  • Project II - Meanings & Practices

    Dr. R. Ronald/O. Druta 

    Project two is an exploration of the meaning and use of the home as both a social and market good. Studies have associated the home with important categories of meaning in everyday life: as the centre of family living; a place of safety and retreat; a medium of freedom and independence; a marker of social identity and status. Indeed, the home is a place of being and belonging – and a special centre of meaning – but also constitutes a space in and around which daily affairs and interactions are regulated. In this study particular attention is paid to how individual meanings associated with home and related vernacular housing practices are shaped by, and contribute to local interactions between housing and social systems. Increasingly, the meaning of the home as a commodity has adopted a particular salience along with tenure system shifts, market price augmentation and neoliberal socioeconomic restructuring. Changing housing markets, employment and public welfare conditions have, over time, shaped particular demographic distributions of housing wealth in each country. This has contributed to embedding of housing assets in flows of material and non-material assistance across generations. Project two thus not only addresses the everyday meaning and use of housing, but also how individuals, households and families together perceive and relate to their homes and housing choices in unified ways. Qualitative field studies carried out in the six countries will thereby contribute to a material sociology of the home that accounts for vernacular meanings and practices in relation to cultural and social processes.

  • Project III - Security & Inequality

    R. Arundel / C. Lennartz

    The triad of secure employment, state benefits and home ownership has been considered a mutually reinforcing framework of household economic security in many societies. Recent socioeconomic changes have transformed this relationship as governments have increasingly emphasized the home ownership element at the expense of the other two. Project three addresses how recent housing market transformations have restructured not only frameworks of social security but also social inequalities. With a greater emphasis on home buying and building property equity as an alternative to other safety nets, housing situations have become an important determinant of social inequality in some contexts and a key modifier in others. Despite the widening distribution of home ownership, housing wealth has become increasingly polarized. One significant development has been generational rifts in housing market positions. Older homeowners typically bought homes when prices were low and enjoyed growing equity during boom periods, while younger cohorts have increasingly been shut out of the market. Emphasis on home ownership as financial security has promoted a re-familization of society with parents increasingly required to help adult children in the housing market. Recent welfare regime shifts and socioeconomic and market restructuring imply a necessary reconsideration of economic inequalities derived from, or related to housing markets. Project three is thus concerned with the analysis of how housing market positions influence household economic security. Through the analysis of micro household data the research will address how economic and welfare conditions are influenced by family housing property situations in different regime contexts.