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Harvard: First-time homebuyers are changing

The percentage of "never-marrieds" is growing

The profile of first-time homebuyers in the U.S. is changing, according to researchers at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

In a paper titled “The Shifting Profile of First-Time Homebuyers: 1997-2017,” researchers found that in the past 20 years, there has been a significant shift from married households to never-married households among first-time homebuyers. To examine trends in this group of homebuyers, researchers used the 1997-2017 American Housing Surveys

The 2017 AHS suggests that first-time homebuyers purchased approximately 1.8 million housing units in 2016, making up approximately 1.5% of U.S. households that year. 

While discussions of first-time home buying often tie homeownership entry to life-stage changes like marriage and the birth of a first child, a growing share of first-time homebuyers do not fit this profile,” the paper stated. 

According to AHS, 35% of first-time homebuyers in 2017 had never been married, compared to 23% twenty years prior. Married homebuyers made up 61% of the first-time homebuyers in 1997 and declined to 46% in 2013. But, that percentage increased over the next three years, hitting 52% in 2017. 

“These trends suggest that there may be a fundamental shift in the way that young households are approaching first-time home purchases, such as an increased willingness to purchase homes individually or with unmarried partners,” the paper explained. 

“Because the trends in marital status are not mirrored by similarly-large shifts in the age distribution of first-time homebuyers, it is unlikely that they are driven by demographic shifts like decisions to delay marriage and childbirth until later ages,” the paper continued. 

Surprisingly, the average age of first-time homebuyers hasn’t changed very much in 20 years. In 2017, the mean age for first-time homebuyers was 34, compared to 32 in 1997. The group hit its youngest average in 2009, with the average first-time homebuyer was only 30 years old. 

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