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Where You Don't Have to Feel Bad If You're a 40-Year-Old Renter

Where You Don't Have to Feel Bad If You're a 40-Year-Old Renter
Reuters

The Census Bureau released additional data Thursday from the 2011 American Housing Survey, an in-depth snapshot taken every two years of the types of homes we keep, how we pay for and heat them, even how many of us have fireplaces that are actually "usable" (among homeowners, it's 46 percent). Nationwide, the median monthly mortgage paid in 2011 was $1,015, which sounds like a steal if you live in New York, or a ripoff if you make your home in Pittsburgh.

The data is particularly interesting for what it reveals about the stark differences between housing markets depending on where in America you live, and not just for the median home values. The cost of housing also dramatically influences the shape of it, whether more properties are rentals, or owner-occupied – or outright owned by someone who owes nothing to the bank.

In addition to releasing some national data Thursday, Census also published 29 metropolitan profiles that illustrate these differences (the cities surveyed every two years rotate). For reference, this is the shape of the national housing market, broken down by age group:


Census Bureau. Regular mortgages include all mortgages not classified as home-equity credit lines or reverse annuity mortgages.

You probably know this narrative: Most of us rent in our 20s, before the mad rush to start families and buy a home kicks in around age 30. Beyond that point, age demographics suggest that you're more likely to own a home as you age than to rent one. And, for those of us who are lucky, we'll have spent the bulk of middle age paying down that mortgage so that, by the time we're in our 70s, we'll be living rent- and mortgage-free.

Some metropolitan areas, like the one around Atlanta, pretty closely reflect these national trends:


Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metropolitan area.

And then there is a metropolitan area like San Francisco...


San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City metropolitan area.

... where more people in their early 40s are still renting than owning, no doubt related to the fact that the median purchase price of a new home (built in the last four years) was $560,000 in 2011. The picture is similar in Los Angeles:


Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area.

Meanwhile, a few dramatically different regions, starting with Cleveland, where the housing prices are lower and your chances of eventually owning a place outright are much higher:


Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor metropolitan area.

And similarly affordable Milwaukee:


Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis metropolitan area.

These charts show the total number of housing units by age group, not the percentage of housing by age, and so these charts also reflect the different age demographics of each city. If you've ever felt, though, like society thinks you should own your home by the time you're in your early 30s, the reality in fact depends on where you live.

Top image of the San Francisco skyline: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities based in Washington, D.C. She now writes for The Washington Post. All posts »

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