Housing Wealth and welfare over the life course

Stephan Koeppe (Lead / Corresponding author), Beverley Searle

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    While housing policy debates have been historically dominated by discussions of rental tenures, more recent attention has turned to the role of home ownership, especially in regard to so-called asset-based welfare (see Ronald and Dewilde, this volume). So far, most contributions to discourses on home ownership and welfare have understandably focused on social and economic aspects. In contrast, this chapter takes a perspective of housing politics (cf. Bengtsson 2015) and discusses power and political processes related to housing policies that include home ownership. In doing this, we explore what specific expressions of path dependence housing provision would take in relation to such a policy. The argument draws on observations from three Nordic housing regimes: Sweden, Norway and Finland. In all these countries, home ownership has indeed been seen as an important ingredient in general housing policies, although from different cultural and ideological standpoints and within different institutional frameworks. Policies of asset-based welfare related to home ownership have so far not been coherently formulated in any of these countries, although in more general terms, the issue has recently entered public debates. To our knowledge, this chapter represents the first attempt within housing studies to examine whether political processes related to the provision of owner-occupied housing follow similar or different logics of path dependence compared to those of housing provision in general. Our discussion is related to Jim Kemeny’s (1981) well-known thesis on ‘the myth of home ownership’, and we explicate the political implications of this myth by linking it to empirical observations of political processes of housing provision in Finland, Norway and Sweden. In the following, three separate sections corresponding to each national context are presented followed by a concluding comparative discussion. This outline is in accordance with a methodological logic of ‘comparative process tracing’ that combines theory, chronology and comparison and where the primary focus is on the historical trajectories of policies and institutions (cf. Bengtsson and Ruonavaara 2011). Comparison is not based on static variables but on the social mechanisms of path dependence and theory-informed periodization. In contrast to other chapters of this book, the evidence is qualitative: political texts, statements and debates; unfortunately, space does not allow detailed references to our sources here. Chapter 4 Advanced welfare states provide social protection to differing degrees, from cradle to grave and through various services and transfers. Historically, however, the emphasis has gradually shifted from the grave to the cradle. The first social protection schemes focused on pensions and the workplace. Since the Golden Age of the welfare state, subsequent generations have witnessed not only major policy changes but also changing life course patterns and risks (Rowlingson, 2009). Shifts in academic debates acknowledge a need for a strong state welfare focus on the young rather than the elderly (Van Kersbergen and Hemerijck, 2012) – although within policy discourse this is played out as a generational U-turn, with politicians trying to play off an ill-defined younger generation against the elderly ‘welfare generation’ (Walker, 2012). This perspective on the life course is the backdrop to understanding how housing wealth is utilized from cradle to grave and how it is being given back, or more accurately passed forward, for welfare purposes. The move to asset-based welfare in some advanced welfare states (see specific country chapters in this volume) has to various degrees complemented or even replaced existing welfare schemes. Most social policy textbooks have neglected this trend by either focusing on housing policy as providing shelter and rental regulation or ignoring the topic altogether, without acknowledging the increased welfare function of property assets (for an exception, see Fahey and Norris, 2010). A few housing scholars have addressed housing transitions in different life stages (for example, Beer et al., 2011), but without a comprehensive framework to capture its complexities across time. Welfare state retrenchment, austerity and a neoliberal agenda in developed welfare states, and lack of welfare expansion in residual welfare states, have increased the pressure and incentives to draw on housing wealth to finance education, pensions or long-term care. Yet so far we have only limited understanding of how housing assets and wealth may impact the life-course approach and interact with existing social protection schemes, both theoretically and empirically. Furthermore, it is important to shed light on the old and new social risks (Bonoli, 2005) associated with housing wealth.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHousing Wealth and Welfare
    EditorsCaroline Dewilde, Richard Ronald
    Place of PublicationCheltenham, Glos, UK
    PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
    Number of pages23
    ISBN (Electronic)9781785360961
    ISBN (Print)9781785360954
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


    • home-ownership
    • housing wealth
    • housing policy
    • life course
    • welfare state
    • inequality


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