Is a high home ownership rate a sign of a successful country?

People who rent in the private sector get short shrift in British politics. Renting is rarely talked about and when it is, it is almost always wrapped in a claim of it being inferior to owner-occupation. It is as if a private renter is simply someone who has not been successful or lucky enough to become an owner-occupier.

As I wrote last year:

People who live in private rented accommodation rarely catch the attention of politicians or political journalists. It’s odd, because so many people working for MPs or media outlets, particularly in London, spend a good number of years in shared private rented accommodation and normally the problem is that politicians place too much attention on people they are immediately familiar with rather than too little.

The neglect of the private renter is seen most often when the housing market is discussed, where it is frequently not only taken as a given that home ownership is what it is all about but also very little attention is given to making the private rented sector work better. You can fight through a bulging email folder of press releases from politicians wanting to make mortgages easier, cheaper, safer and more numerous before you find one that talks about tackling any of the issues renters face.

This neglect means that the interests of renters get far too little attention, whether it is a matter of electoral registration (differences in registration rates between renters and owner-occupiers dwarf the relatively small differences from class or ethnicity) or low-earning people striving to make a better life.

The underlying assumption that owner-occupation is what everyone should aim for is unusually strong in Britain compared to other countries. In fact, via Tim Harford come these striking figures reported by Tyler Cowen:

I saw an El Pais spread on this, which I cannot find on-line.  Here are the European countries with the highest owner occupancy rates:

1. Romania, 97.5%

2. Lithuania, 93.1%

3. Croatia, 90.1%

4. Slovakia, 90.0%

How about the lowest rates?

1. Switzerland, 44.3%

2. Germany, 53.2%

3. Austria, 57.4%

Get the picture?

No wonder he headlines his piece “Is a high home ownership rate a sign of a successful country?”.

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