Why Buy a Home? Race, Ethnicity, and Homeownership Preferences in the United States

Published: 2018 | Brian J. McCabe | SAGE Sociology of Race and Ethnicity


There are many reasons why Americans prefer homeownership to renting. Owning a home can serve as a vehicle for economic mobility or a marker of status attainment. Homeownership may deepen feelings of ontological security and enable families to move into more convenient neighborhoods. While previous research on race, ethnicity, and housing focuses on homeownership attainment, identifying structural barriers to explain persistent racial disparities, there has been little investigation of the reasons why Americans prefer to own their own homes. Drawing on the National Housing Survey, a nationally representative survey of American adults, I ask how these reasons vary by race and ethnicity. I report that African Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to identify the social status of ownership and the importance of building wealth as reasons to buy a home. While African Americans are also more likely to pursue homeownership as a way to improve their housing quality, they are less likely to view ownership as a tool for accessing more convenient neighborhoods. As a contribution to research on racial stratification in homeownership, my findings push beyond existing studies of revealed preferences to explain why buying a home endures as such an important goal for many Americans. African Americans and Latinos are more deeply invested in the social status of homeownership, the importance of building wealth, and the promise of moving into a nicer home when they pursue ownership opportunities.