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Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?

The Atlantic recently ran an article that calls attention to the fact that American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.

This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families. By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later.

But Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever-bigger homes. Clement Bellet, at a European business school, wrote “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980 house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”

It’s a classic, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type report about how we Americans are building bigger homes than ever—and yet our happiness tends to be inversely proportionate to the square footage of our new real estate. As usual, the dynamics of comparison, judgment, and self-justification are at play.

Bellet continues:

To be clear, having more space does generally lead to people saying they’re more pleased with their home. The problem is that the satisfaction often doesn’t last if even bigger homes pop up nearby. If I bought a house to feel like I’m “the king of my neighborhood,” but a new king arises, it makes me feel very bad about my house. It is an unfulfilling cycle of one-upmanship.

Source: Brandon Bennett, “From The Atlantic: Are McMansions Making People Any Happier? Mockingbird (6-20-19); Joe Pinsker, “Are McMansions Making People Any Happier? The Atlantic (6-11-19)

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