Introducing a new book: Housing and Life Course Dynamics

Rory Coulter, University College London

Housing has become central to public debates about population change. Perhaps the dominant perspective is that an accelerating crisis of housing access, affordability, quality and security is reshaping population dynamics across the Global North in a range of largely negative ways. These include (1) high housing costs preventing younger adults from leaving the parental home; (2) delayed and reduced fertility as a result of housing constraints; (3) cramped, poor quality and expensive homes damaging health; and (4) housing cost burdens making it difficult for some groups to migrate to advantageous areas to find work, progress in their career or access educational opportunities. Meanwhile, objections to immigration have focused on the opposite direction of causality, namely the possibility that an influx of new arrivals might raise housing prices.

Often these public debates are based either on scant evidence or on a partial and politicised reading of a complex and scattered body of findings. Synthesising what we do know about the connections between housing and a wide range of life course processes (while highlighting the huge amount we still don’t fully understand) was therefore one of my main motivations for writing Housing and Life Course Dynamics. I also wanted to inject a stronger focus on people and inequalities to the rather technocratic public debate about housing, which tends to prioritise markets, government actions and the ‘macro’ over the ‘micro’ of how exactly people navigate housing systems in the 21st century.

Fundamentally, Housing and Life Course Dynamics aims to show how who we are matters for our housing and how housing helps make us into who we are. To do this, the early chapters develop a modern life course framework for researching and formulating better policies around housing. Central to this framework is what I term the ‘life course toolbox’: a series of twelve sets of conceptual tools that can be drawn on, adapted, used in combination and/or added to in research projects. Examples of these twelve tools include cumulative development, duration, construction, synchronisation and cohort and period effects.

The rest of the book then uses these tools to synthesise what we know about the connections between housing careers and processes across four other life course domains: (1) family and household dynamics, (2) education, (3) work and money and (4) health, well-being and care. Throughout the book I show that housing inequalities both reflect and also amplify broader inequalities between social groups and between people living in different places. The final chapters concentrate on how these interactions are bound up with the changing social fabric of places and on sketching a future research agenda.

Overall, I hope Housing and Life Course Dynamics provides a window into the excellent work that population geographers — alongside colleagues working across many related fields — are today doing to generate new knowledge and insights about housing-related issues. I hope it also prompts us, as population geographers, to take housing a little more seriously when we think about and examine the dynamics of populations and their implications for social and spatial inequalities.

Housing and Life Course Dynamics is published by Policy Press:   

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