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Behind America's Fixation on Big Houses

McMansion or not, the American home is a good 600 to 800 square feet larger than the average in most other countries. Possible reasons run the gamut from policy to culture to personal economics.
September 27, 2019, 12pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Paul Sableman

It's no secret that the United States boasts big houses. Average American homes are significantly larger than their global counterparts, and the contrast is even more stark for newer American constructions. Here, Joe Pinsker takes a look at a range of causes for this country's size obsession.

One set of reasons has to do with deliberate policies that "have for the past century effectively steered Americans toward living in detached single-family homes" and commuting by car. Other factors are cultural, like a supposed American preference for space, or historical, like the relative newness of American metros compared to European counterparts built atop medieval foundations.

"In the case of the U.S., more than national wealth is linked to size—there's often a personal financial advantage to it as well," Pinsker writes. Getting a big mortgage on a spacious house, or so the thinking goes, pays off in the long run as the larger house appreciates with time. 

Despite the American fixation with space, Pinsker also notes how norms can shift. According to one study, "from 2003 to 2018, the median square footage that home buyers said they wanted dropped from 2,260 to 2,066." 

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Published on Thursday, September 12, 2019 in The Atlantic
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