Many previous studies show that homeownership is related to various aspects of well-being, although the causal nature of this relationship is difficult to identify. We analyze the association between homeownership and material security, measured through subjective expectations of being better or worse off in the future, using data from 15 European countries. Our findings show that homeowners have a higher level of material security than renters, with larger differences among those living in big cities. We find that material security increases with the value of owner’s property and at the same time find no significant relationship with education, income or financial situation. We interpret the results as support for one of the most commonly emphasized mechanisms behind the positive effects of homeownership for well-being – that homeownership provides a particular form of material security in old age.
Vast empirical literature links homeownership to numerous outcomes, such as well-being, health or mobility (Costa-Font, 2008; Dietz and Haurin, 2003; Rohe and Stewart, 1996 among others). In most cases the specific causal link with homeownership per se is however difficult to demonstrate. This because homeownership, especially in old age, usually reflects the financial resources accumulated over the life course through labor market history, as well as health and family developments (Angelini et al., 2013). This means that many unobservable characteristics can obscure the relationship between homeownership and welfare outcomes and bias the estimated parameters.
Material security is an important aspect of well-being, facilitating longer-term planning of financial decisions, smoothing of expenditures across periods of lower contemporaneous incomes and allowing exceptional spending when faced with various negative shocks. It seems particularly relevant in old age when people’s ability to adjust their current income to their specific needs is significantly reduced, and material needs increasingly depend on health. As people age and as their ability to maintain labor market activity diminishes, the material resources available to them, and the security these can provide, are increasingly composed of pensions and accumulated assets. Among the latter, fixed assets, and in particular ownership of one’s home, play a very special role, as they provide some financial backup and secure a flow of regular consumption in the form of accommodation.
It is reasonable to expect that homeownership would influence well-being through the channel of material security, particularly in old age. Surprisingly, the findings in the literature directly exploring this mechanism are so far scarce. We address this gap using data collected in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) on individuals aged 50 years and above. We take advantage of the 2006 edition of the survey from 14 European countries and Israel and develop a measure of perceived future material security using two consecutive questions on ‘the chances that five years from now the standard of living [of the participant] will be better/worse than today’. Participants reported the estimated chances on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 means ‘absolutely no chance’ and 100 denotes ‘absolutely certain’. In line with previous behavioral literature, we calculate a difference between the chances of being better vs. worse off, and recode into a categorical variable with 5 outcomes spanning from ‘very likely worse off’, through ‘rather likely worse off’, ‘equally likely’, ‘rather likely better off’ and ‘very likely better off’ (more details in Garten et al., 2022). In our sample, ‘equally likely’ is the most frequent category (30 percent of total responses), and being either ‘very’ or ‘rather likely worse off’ was more frequently reported than being better off (48 percent of total responses coded as either outcome for being worse off as compared to 22 percent for the two categories of being better off).
The Impact of Homeownership on Expectations of Future Standard of Living
We regress the measure of perceived material security on an extended vector of characteristics including basic demographics, education, marital status, labor market status, the relative position in the distributions of income and financial assets, and physical and mental health. Our main variable of interest is a categorical measure of homeownership, where individuals are split between renters and homeowners, who are further divided based on the country-specific quartiles of their home value. This measure is then interacted with being a big city resident. Below we present some selected results, which are reported in full in Garten et al. (2022).
In Figure 1 we report the results for each outcome of perception of material security for owner occupiers (depending on the value of their home) as compared to renters, by place of residence. The correlation with material security is particularly strong among those living in cities. However, among other respondents, those in the top quartile of the home value distribution are also more likely to report being optimistic about their material conditions in the future. For big city dwellers, the differences between renters and home owners are statistically significant already for owners with home values in the second quartile of the distribution, and the effects carry through to higher quartiles. The differences for selected perceptions of material security are not only statistically significant but also large in magnitude in the case of city dwellers who own the most expensive properties. As compared to renters they are 3.7 percentage points more likely to expect that their future situation will be either ‘rather’ or ‘very likely’ better. Among those living in big cities, 17.5 percent and 8.5 percent respectively, declare these positive expectations. This means that proportionally, the estimated 3.7 percentage points correspond to respective increases of 21.2 percent and 43.3 percent.
Figure 1. Marginal effects of homeownership for outcomes of perception of material security
We relate the marginal effect of owning a property in the top quartile of the home value distribution, as compared to owners with properties in the bottom quartile or renters, to the effect resulting from: higher education, being in the top income quartile or in the top financial assets quartile. While education, income and financial assets affect the perception of future material situation in the expected direction, the estimated relationships are statistically insignificant, and their magnitude is much lower compared to the estimated relationship with homeownership.
Relative to renters, individuals owning their homes tend to have higher levels of well-being across numerous dimensions (see Garten et al., 2022 for an overview). Due to the complex nature of the accumulation of wealth and its interaction with different spheres of life over the life cycle, the identification of the causal character of this relationship is a nearly impossible task. Although many mechanisms behind this relationship have been suggested, few have actually been put to the test against real-life data. Therefore, better understanding of these mechanisms might be a way to verify the hypothesis that homeownership actually matters for well-being.
Our findings confirm that homeowners – in particular those living in big cities – enjoy a higher level of self-perceived material security and are more likely to express optimism about their material standard of living in the future as compared to renters. Such feeling of security for the coming years may contribute to a more general positive outlook, and consequently to the higher reported levels of well-being and life-satisfaction observed in the literature. The examined relationship is especially strong among those in the top quartile of the distribution of property values, although for dwellers in big cities the effect is also strong for those with lower property value. While these findings cannot be interpreted as strictly causal, we suggest that owning a home offers a very particular type of material security in old age and that this security might be an important mechanism leading to the observed positive relationship between homeownership and overall well-being.
The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the German Science Foundation (DFG, project no: BR 38.6816-1) and the Polish National Science Centre (NCN, project no: 2018/31/G/HS4/01511) in the joint international Beethoven Classic 3 funding scheme – project AGE-WELL. For the full list of acknowledgements see Garten et al. (2022).
- Angelini, V., Laferrère, A., and Weber, G. (2013). Home-ownership in Europe: How did it happen?, Advances in Life Course Research, 18(1), pp. 83–90.
- Costa-Font, J. (2008). Housing assets and the socio-economic determinants of health and disability in old age, Health & Place, 14(3), pp. 478–491.
- Dietz, R. D. and Haurin, D. R. (2003). The social and private micro-level consequences of homeownership, Journal of Urban Economics, 54(3), pp. 401–450.
- Garten, C., Myck, M., and Oczkowska, M. (2022). Homeownership and the Perception of Material Security in Old Age, SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.4196268.
- Howden-Chapman, P. L., Chandola, T., Stafford, M., and Marmot, M. (2011). The effect of housing on the mental health of older people: the impact of lifetime housing history in Whitehall II, BMC Public Health, 11(1), p. 682.
- Rohe, W. M., and Stewart, L. S. (1996). Homeownership and neighborhood stability, Housing Policy Debate, 7(1), pp. 37–81.
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This policy brief introduces two related papers examining two types of gender gaps in Estonia. First, it presents the work of Vahter and Masso (2019), who study the wage gender gaps in foreign-owned firms and compare this gap with the situation in domestic ones. Then it summarizes a paper of Meriküll, Kukk, and Rõõm (2019), who focus on the wealth gender gaps and highlight the role of entrepreneurship in this gap.
Gender inequality is not only a moral issue. An extensive literature has highlighted the cost of gender inequality in terms of economic (in)efficiency. Most of the academic work has, however, focused on either the US and Western Europe or developing countries. Research focusing on systematic gender disparities in Eastern Europe is rather scarce. Yet, there is much to be learned from this region. The purpose of the FROGEE (Forum for Research on Gender in Eastern Europe) project is to study several issues related to gender inequality in former socialist countries.
This policy brief summarizes two papers presented at the 2nd Baltic Economic Conference at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, on June 10-11, where a special session on gender economics was held with the support of the FROGEE project. The event, organized by the Baltic Economic Association (see balticecon.org), gathered more than 85 researchers from the Baltics and all over the world. These two papers focus on Estonia, one of the most successful economies among the transition countries, where however the gender wage gap is among the largest in the European Union.
Firm ownership and gender wage gap
An important source of wage inequality originates in firm-specific pay schemes (see for instance Card et al. 2016). Understanding the characteristics of firms associated with a gender pay gap is thus a necessary step to design relevant policy responses. In a paper entitled “The contribution of multinationals to wage inequality: foreign ownership and the gender pay gap”, Jaan Masso and Priit Vahter, both at the University of Tartu, compare the situation in foreign-owned firms with domestic ones. The fact that foreign-owned firms provide on average higher wages to their employees is well documented. However, the question of whether this premium differs between men and women remains largely overlooked.
A potential channel linking firm ownership and gender wage gap is the transfer of management practices from the home country of the investor to the affiliate. The great majority of FDI in Estonia originates from Finland and Sweden, two countries that regularly top international rankings on gender equality and that have set the fight against gender inequality as a top priority. Observing a lower level of gender wage gap in firms owned by Swedish and Finnish capital would suggest the existence of such a mechanism, even if there is evidence that Scandinavian countries do not stand out in a positive way when it comes to women in the top of the distribution (see for instance Boschini et al., 2018, and Bobilev et al., 2019).
On the other hand, Goldin (2014) has shown that a large part of the gender wage gap in the US can be explained by differences in job “commitment”: firms disproportionately reward workers willing to be available 24/7, more flexible regarding business trips, spending longer hours in the office, etc. Such workers happen to be more often men than women. Multinational firms may require such commitment and flexibility to a larger extent than domestic firms, due for instance to their higher exposure to international competition. This would imply a larger gender pay gap in foreign-owned firms compared to local firms.
To investigate this issue, Masso and Vahter (2019) rely on Estonian administrative data, providing information on the whole universe of workers and of firms in the country between 2006 and 2014. This matched employer-employee dataset allows to track the wage of individuals over the years, but also to compare wages both across and within firms. It thus becomes possible to estimate the gender wage gap at the firm level (controlling for relevant individual-level factors affecting wages, such as age and experience), and then to check whether this measure systematically differs between domestic and foreign-owned firms.
However, simply comparing the gender pay gap between these two types of firms could lead to spurious conclusions. Foreign-owned firms have on average different characteristics than domestic ones: they do not operate in the same sectors, they do not have the same size nor the same productivity. To overcome this issue, the authors rely on a matching method: for each foreign-owned firms, they match a domestic firm with similar (observable) characteristics.
They find that in domestic firms, women are on average paid 19% less than men, even after accounting for many other factors associated with wage. In foreign-owned companies, both men and women are better paid. However, both genders do not benefit from the same premium: men are paid roughly 15% more in foreign-owned firms, whereas the premium for women is only 5.4%. This difference implies an even larger gender wage gap in multinational firms. To illustrate the economic significance of these results, for a man and a woman earning a monthly wage of 1146 euros (the average gross wage in Estonia in 2016), the premium for switching from a domestic to a foreign-owned firm is respectively 171 and 62 euros. Further, they provide some evidence that lower “commitment” is associated with a stronger wage penalty in foreign-owned firms. All in all, these results suggest that there is not necessarily a relationship between a multinational wage policy (especially in its gender wage-gap dimension) and the gender norms prevailing in its country of incorporation.
Gender and wealth gap
The vast majority of academic papers studying gender inequality focuses on the wage gap. But gender inequality can affect other types of economic outcomes, such as labor force participation, unemployment duration, or wealth. The latter is of particular interest since wealth can greatly contribute to empowerment. Merike Kukk, Jaanika Meriküll and Tairi Rõõm, all at the Bank of Estonia, extend the literature with a paper entitled “What explains the Gender Gap in Wealth? Evidence from Administrative Data”. This paper is one of the first to study the gender wealth gap in a post-transition country. The literature on the gender wealth gap is rather scarce because of a lack of suitable data: wealth measures are often computed at the household level, while individual-level data is necessary for such a study.
The main aim of this paper is to depict a precise portrait of this phenomenon in Estonia. In particular, the authors do not simply estimate the overall wealth gap but investigate the magnitude of the gap across the wealth distribution. In other words, is there a difference between the poorest men and the poorest women? Or on the other side of the distribution, are the richest men more wealthy than the richest women?
For this purpose, Kukk, Meriküll and Rõõm combine administrative individual-level data on wealth with survey results. The administrative data are generally considered of much better quality than the other, but they do not provide a lot of additional information on individuals. On the other hand, survey data provide a wealth of information about individual characteristics. Merging allows getting the best of both worlds. Regarding the methodology, the authors use unconditional quantile regression to track gender differences at different deciles of the wealth distribution. They further decompose this “raw” gender gap into two components: the “explained” part, i.e., the part of the gap resulting in differences in characteristics between men and women (demographics, education, etc.), and the “unexplained” part.
This study estimates the raw, unconditional gender wealth gap in Estonia to be 45%, which is of similar magnitude as in Germany. Interestingly, this difference is essentially driven by differences in the top of the distribution: there is a large gap between the richest men and the richest women. This “raw” difference is however explained by a single variable: self-employment, as men are much more likely to have business assets than women. Once controlling for the entrepreneurship status, the wealth difference between the richest Estonians becomes insignificant. This suggests the need to support policies encouraging female entrepreneurship and to remove barriers particularly affecting women. For instance, the literature has previously pointed out that women have less access to external sources of capital than men (e.g., Aidis et al., 2007). Such distortions can ultimately result in a wealth gap at the top of the distribution, as documented by this paper.
In addition, the literature has proposed several mechanisms that could result in gender-specific patterns of wealth accumulation. The simplest channel is through the wage gap, as it can be seen as the accumulation of the wage gap over time (e.g. Blau and Kahn, 2000). The authors thus compare the gender gaps in wealth and income. They uncover a strong wage gap, with men earning significantly more than women starting at the 6th decile: the higher we go in the income distribution, the larger the wage gap. How to reconcile this finding with the absence of a wealth gap conditional on entrepreneurship status? A possible explanation suggested by the authors is that women simply accumulate wealth better than men do.
These two papers illustrate two different mechanisms explaining gender-specific economic outcomes. The larger wage gap observed in multinational companies can be explained by a stronger commitment penalty for women, mostly because of childcare. This asks for two potential policy interventions. First, the development of childcare could facilitate the reduction in the “commitment gap” that disrupts women’s careers. Second, institutions could support a more flexible repartition of childcare responsibilities. Note however that Estonia already has the longest duration of leave at full pay (85 weeks), and that this leave can be freely split between parents. As for the wealth gap at the top of the wealth distribution, it can to a large extent be explained by the entrepreneurship status. This difference could partly be explained by differences in preferences and risk-aversion, which would require long-run policies to be mitigated. But in the short run, there is room for specific policies supporting female entrepreneurship and removing barriers particularly affecting women, such as a tighter credit constraint.
- Aidis, R., Welter, F., Smallbone, D., & Isakova, N. (2007). Female entrepreneurship in transition economies: the case of Lithuania and Ukraine. Feminist Economics, 13(2), 157-183.
- Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2000). Gender differences in pay. Journal of Economic perspectives, 14(4), 75-99.
- Bobilev, R., Boschini, A., & Roine, J. (2019). Women in the Top of the Income Distribution: What Can We Learn From LIS-Data?. Italian Economic Journal, 1-45.
- Boschini, A., Gunnarsson, K., & Roine, J. (2018). Women in Top Incomes: Evidence from Sweden 1974-2013. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10979 .
- Card, D., Cardoso, A. R., & Kline, P. (2015). Bargaining, sorting, and the gender wage gap: Quantifying the impact of firms on the relative pay of women. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(2), 633-686.
- Goldin, C. (2014). A grand gender convergence: Its last chapter. American Economic Review, 104(4), 1091-1119.
- Meriküll, J., Kukk, M., & Rõõm, T. (2019). What explains the gender gap in wealth? Evidence from administrative data. Bank of Estonia WP No. 2019-04.
- Vahter, P., & Masso, J. (2019). The contribution of multinationals to wage inequality: foreign ownership and the gender pay gap. Review of World Economics, 155(1), 105-148.