The American Dream, as imagined by the post-WWII generation of lucky, prosperous Americans, meant, if nothing else, owning your own American home, for your perfect, nuclear American family. Despite the collapse of the housing market, this dream hasn't died. But recent research suggests that, when we talk about it, we’re not all talking about the same thing—that the meaning of that dream differs between white people and minorities.
A recent study by sociologist Meredith Greif found that home ownership is more meaningful to minorities, but the economic disadvantages they face can actually turn that dream into a nightmare. “Homeownership may be considered a double-edged sword,” Greif said in the press release. “For minorities, the highs of homeownership are higher while the lows are lower.”
Grief found that white people had far higher rates of home ownership than black or Latino people, and tended to live in more desirable neighborhoods, with higher property values and more services. But white people, she found, don’t value those homes as much as other groups. Especially when they were able to purchase a house in a more desirable neighborhood, the minorities in Grief’s study felt far more pride in that ownership than white respondents did.
But there was a flip side. Those minorities were also far less able to buy in those neighborhoods to begin with. Many of them bought homes in less desirable areas, and felt unable to move once they had purchased their home. Minorities had to put more of their net worth in each home, which made them more attuned and anxious about negative changes in their community, like graffiti or abandoned buildings. While an advantaged white family might simply move to a new home if they begin to dislike their neighborhood, minority home owners didn’t have the same luxury.
So while many see the American Dream including a home, not everybody is able to think about that home in the same way.