The Elusive American Dream: Homeownership Trends in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin IDEA

Insight • Data • Economics • Analysis

Noticeable Decline in Homeownership for Those Aged 55 to 64 over 20-year Period

Unlike many other countries, owning one’s home is part of the American Dream. Between 1965 and 2023 the average rate of homeownership was 65.3% with a low of 62.9% in 1965 to a peak of 69.2% in the latter half of 2004. This high point in 2004 is also the high point for Wisconsin homeownership rates at 73.3%. Record high housing prices, coupled with historically high mortgage rates, and lingering shortages in the supply of housing (both for purchase and rent) have created challenges for those seeking to own their own home.

Figure 1. Wisconsin Home Ownership by Age: 2000, 2010, 2022

While overall Wisconsin home ownership rates have ebbed and flowed largely as the larger economy has ebbed and flowed, looking at homeownership rates by age over time paints a telling story. Using Wisconsin Census data from 2000, 2010, and 2022 two clear patterns emerge. First, there is an inverted U-shape pattern between age and homeownership with the lowest rates at the youngest (age 25-34) and oldest (85 and over) and the peak being age 55 through 74. The lower rate at younger ages makes sense: people are still saving for downpayments and may still prefer to be mobile in terms of opportunities. For the older age (85+) many may be electing to reside in assisted living facilities or with their grown children.

The second and perhaps more relevant pattern is the shift downward in ownership rates from 2000 to 2022 across all age groups up until age 75 and over where the rates are increasing over time. There is a noticeable decline over the 20-year period for those aged 55 to 64. In other words, the rates of home ownership have steadily declined for all but the oldest Wisconsinites. While the trends are clear, the reasoning behind the trends is less clear. As housing prices (costs) associated with ownership pushed would be home buyers into rental markets or are people making a concession decision that renting is a better choice given their personal circumstances? While it is likely some combination, it appears that for a growing set of Wisconsinites homeownership is becoming more difficult.

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