American homes are a lot roomier than they used to be. In 1973, the Census Bureau determined that the median size of a new house was about 1,500 square feet. As of 2015, that number had shot up to about 2,500 square feet. And with Americans having fewer children on average, the increase in house size translated into a lot more square footage per resident — from 507 square feet per resident for new houses in 1973 to 971 square feet per resident for a new house built in 2015.
So, are Americans a lot happier with their larger, roomier homes? A researcher tried to figure that out and determined that the answer is: not really. Although American homes have grown significantly in terms of their square footage, overall house satisfaction hasn’t changed. According to the research, the apparent reason is that some Americans are trapped in an endless cycle of house one-upsmanship.
The researcher concluded that Americans whose houses are among the largest in the neighborhood tend to be most prone to house unhappiness. These homeowners build the biggest house around and are satisfied with it, but when somebody builds an even bigger McMansion on a nearby lot, knocking them out of the “biggest house in the neighborhood” slot, suddenly their satisfaction with their home drops. The research also indicates that there’s been a kind of nuclear arms race at the top end of the American housing market, with the size of the largest 10 percent of houses increasing 1.4 times as fast as the size of the median house. Evidently “keeping up with the Joneses” now means adding on to your house to maintain your status as king of the block.
I’m not sure about the statistical analysis used in the research and how you can determine with certainty whether people are dissatisfied with their already big house because it now isn’t the biggest house in the ‘hood, as opposed to other reasons for house dissatisfaction. But I do know this: I feel sorry for people who measure their own happiness and satisfaction by comparing their possessions, whether it is houses or cars or something else, to what is owned by others. It’s a rat race that isn’t really winnable, because there’s always going to be someone with a bigger house and fancier car.
Such people are never really going to be happy — at least not for long. Better to find a house that you and your family like, forget about participating in the pointless big house derby, and be amused as you watch the Joneses and their McMansions endlessly duke it out for top dog status.