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House price shocks and breaking up

As house prices slump, researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, ISER, have been considering the impact on families.

A study carried out by research associate Helmut Rainer and his colleague Ian Smith concludes that unexpected downturns in the housing market can damage family stability. The effects are exacerbated for couples with dependent children, a low family income and high mortgage debt.

Analysis of data collected from 5000 households across a 14-year period (British Household Panel Survey, BHPS) together with the Halifax House Price Index (HHPI), shows that for every unexpected 10% fall in house prices, an extra 5% of couples will split up.

To date, there has been little evidence to demonstrate the importance of house prices for couples. Informal speculation in the media has suggested that high and rising property prices might help to keep couples together, as people recognise that, whatever problems they have in their relationship, the prospect of a move down the property ladder is much worse.

Staying together for the sake of the home? House price shocks and partnership dissolution in the UK is the first attempt to measure the impact of unanticipated house price falls and rises on marital stability.

Commenting on the findings, the authors observed: ‘The first effect of negative house price shocks is to reduce directly the wealth of couples who own a property. Falling into negative equity and other economic problems associated with house price falls put pressure on marriages.’

The authors believe the findings will be of considerable interest to policy makers for whom divorce and its consequences are of particular concern. Their study concludes that well designed policies that support low income families such as mortgage interest support or council tax rebates may be the key to reducing the degree to which couples are affected by money lost on their homes.

Christine Garrington | alfa
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