Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Michael P. Johnson

Second Advisor

Christian E. Weller

Third Advisor

Eric S. Belsky


Homeownership in the United States is associated with many beneficial outcomes, including control over living arrangements, social and economic opportunities, social inclusion, and a better quality of life - in short, the American Dream. Indeed, Americans' beliefs in these benefits are so great that they have motivated policies encouraging more households to own. As the nation recovers from a housing-induced recession, policymakers should take a closer look at these beliefs and see what lessons they offer for future housing policies.

This dissertation asks two questions about beliefs in the benefits of homeownership in the United States:

  1. What beliefs did Americans have about the benefits of homeownership during the 20th and early 21st centuries?
  2. What effects do such beliefs have on individual decisions about buying and renting housing?

This study uses a mixed-methods research design informed by theories from sociology and economics to analyze the origins and effects of beliefs in the benefits of homeownership. First, content analyses of the public discourse on homeownership in the United States examine media messages and political statements about the benefits of owning. These analyses find evidence of a social construction of homeownership as the preferred and expected housing option for responsible, family-minded citizens. Second, econometric analyses test and confirm the hypothesis that individuals who believe in the benefits of owning are more likely to expect to buy a home in the future.

This study adds to the scholarship on homeownership by developing theoretical and conceptual frameworks to guide analyses of unique datasets, which demonstrate the relevance of beliefs in research on decisions about owning and renting housing. It also suggests that policymakers should be more aware of the role that behavioral factors play in such decisions, and design policies that not only help households make better housing choices, but that can also improve their chances of realizing the many benefits associated with property ownership. The goal of this dissertation is to contribute to ongoing conversations about the role of homeownership in U.S. policy and society, and to inform new approaches to better meet the housing needs of a diverse nation.


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