Why Does Homeownership = The American Dream?

For many people, “The American Dream” is often loosely thought of as synonymous with homeownership, even though a number of other attributes probably deserve equal consideration. Another strong contender is the rags-to-riches stories where hard work and creativity (and usually a goodly dose of luck) result in fame and fortune.

That it’s peculiarly an American dream is more than a myth: it’s an observation that’s demonstrated staying power over time. Notions have to be based on more than a grain of truth to last long in the popular mind. Perhaps it’s peculiarly American because of our particular mix of social and economic mobility—not to mention the considerable physical mobility that makes moving from one community or state to another easily accomplished. Americans move an average of 11 times per lifetime—Europeans, 4.

When you think about it, equating the American Dream with homeownership is probably more of a marker than a definition of the concept itself. If becoming a billionaire were the equivalent of achieving that dream, so few would qualify that it would seem all but unobtainable. But 200 million Americans are members of homeowning families, which makes sharing in the dream eminently doable.

Recently, in a blog from First American Financial’s Dr. Mark Fleming on the likely effects of the end of the CARES Act moratorium, one surprising statistic emerged. As of late May, only about 2 million homeowners remained in the forbearance plans designed to help homeowners weather the pandemic. Yet, at the same time, “…more than 10 million renters are behind on their payments.”

That’s startling. Roughly two-thirds of American households are homeowners, and one-third are renters—yet five times as many renters are still struggling. The reasons for that disparity may be subject to speculation—but it’s one current reason why so much common wisdom still supports the notion that achieving the American Dream coincides with owning your home.