Two hearts and a loan? Mortgages, employment insecurity and earnings among young couples in six European countries

Blog by Giulia M. Dotti Sani, Claudia Acciai

18 Aug 2017, 4:06 p.m.
Giulia M. Dotti Sani, Claudia Acciai



Within a context of progressive retreat of the welfare state from the provision of housing services, homeownership is increasingly understood by policy makers and social scientists as a fundamental asset against poverty risks, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Indeed, homeownership is associated with better current and future living conditions, because it also allows the accumulation of assets that can be transferred to the next generation.


Given the relevance of housing for individual and household well-being, it is concerning that young people in several countries are finding it increasingly difficult to buy a property compared to older generations (Housing Europe, 2015). In fact, in accessing homeownership young adults are penalised on two fronts: on the one hand, they are often not eligible for a mortgage because they lack the economic resources for the initial down payment (Lersch, Dewilde, 2015); on the other hand, even if they do qualify for a mortgage, they risk not being able to pay due to uncertain labour market conditions (Lennartz et al., 2015). Hence, the article focuses on the interconnected effect of employment (in)stability and earned income on the likelihood of being mortgage holders among young couples (18-35) in six European countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, the United Kingdom and France). By analysing couples, the article explores whether the labour market insecurity of one partner can be compensated by a more secure position of the other. Moreover, by selecting six different countries, it seeks to explore the phenomenon in less studied contexts, such as Eastern and Southern European countries. The article links micro- and meso-level characteristics at the couple level with macro-level features concerning welfare regimes, housing systems and labour markets to shed light on these interrelated aspects.


The findings indicate that the interrelated effects of employment stability and earned income on the probability of being a mortgage holder are not clear-cut, but rather are mediated by national contexts. Overall, the results point towards the importance of both employment insecurity and earned income as factors that determine whether young European couples are able to obtain mortgage finance and become home-owners. Having low earned income and insecure employment reduces the chances of being a mortgage holder in all six countries. Moreover, at a given level of employment insecurity, households with higher level of earned income have greater chances of being mortgage holders than households with lower earned income. However, cross-national differences in the size of the effects suggest that contexts matter in reducing or enhancing inequalities in access to homeownership.


Overall, the article falls in line with other research suggesting that access to secure housing has become a growing watershed between the younger and the older generations, the higher and the lower social strata, and ultimately the “winners” and the “losers” of contemporary societies. Therefore, it is imperative that future policies address the combined negative effect of insecure employment and low earnings on becoming a mortgage holder. Ultimately, this type of interventions would not only be beneficial for young couples who wish to acquire a house safely, but would also contribute to a broader reduction of general social inequalities.


Reference list

Housing Europe (2015) The state of housing in the EU 2015. Housing Europe, the European Federation for Public, Cooperative and Social Housing Brussels.

Lersch PM and Dewilde C (2015) Employment insecurity and first-time homeownership: Evidence from twenty-two European countries. Environment and Planning A 47(3): 607‒624.

Lennartz C, Arundel R and Ronald R (2015) Younger adults and homeownership in Europe through the global financial crisis. Population, Space and Place. First published online June 2015. doi: 10.1002/psp.1961.


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