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Journal Article

Urban History Matters: Explaining the German–American Homeownership Gap


Kohl,  Sebastian
Soziologie des Marktes, MPI for the Study of Societies, Max Planck Society;

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Kohl, S. (2016). Urban History Matters: Explaining the German–American Homeownership Gap. Housing Studies, 31(6), 694-713. doi:10.1080/02673037.2015.1121213.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0029-4BE9-A
The homeownership rate in the United States has continuously been about 20 percentage points higher than that of Germany. This homeownership gap is traced back to before the First World War at the urban level. Existing approaches, relying on socio-economic factors, demographics, culture or housing policy, cannot explain the persistence of these differences in homeownership. This article fills this explanatory gap by making a path-dependence argument: it argues that nineteenth-century urban conditions either began to create the American suburbanized single-family house cities or compact multi-unit-building cities, as in Germany. US cities developed differently from German ones because they lacked feudal shackles, were governed as “private cities” and gave easier access to mortgages and building land. The more historically suburbanized a city, the lower its homeownership rate today. Economic and political reinforcing mechanisms kept the two countries on their paths. The article’s contribution is to give a historical and city-focused answer to a standing question in the housing literature.