New ESRC-funded research by Dr Michal Lyons of South Bank University examines the experiences of would-be home-owners in seven cities: London, an acknowledged 'global' city; Birmingham and Manchester, the UK's two largest metropolitan areas; and the four smaller metropolitan areas of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield. The work reveals that:
The difficulties of becoming a homeowner or moving into a 'nice' neighbourhood are considerable in all cities. Delays in getting a foothold in urban housing markets are worst in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Parental home ownership is important for young people's chances of home ownership, and their ability to live in high-status neighbourhoods. Parental home ownership in London or the South East is a greater asset, and parents who are homeowners in London are most likely to have children who are homeowners anywhere. Having home-owning parents in London is a particular asset in acquiring home ownership in the provinces.
Reflecting higher rates of parental home ownership, young people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately able to become homeowners, given similarities of migration and labour market movements.
Even if one's parents are homeowners or live in high-status neighbourhoods, improving on their housing market status, or even retaining it, is generally not possible for young single parents. They fare worse in smaller cities than in the major cities.
The cost of housing affects people's lifestyles in all three major cities. In home-owning households with dependent children, London mothers are more likely to work full-time, and mothers in all three major cities are more likely to work part-time, than elsewhere. Fathers too work more and are more likely to remain in work past the age of 45 if they live in London. Women in London marry slightly later than their counterparts in other cities, but are divorced earlier, too, and are less likely to have children.
The high cost of housing in all three major cities also affects single people, but there are gender differences. Single women prefer living in better neighbourhoods, even at the cost of remaining tenants, rather than becoming homeowners in poor neighbourhoods. On the other hand, young men are more likely to become homeowners.
Previous research has suggested that global cities like London will lose their poorer residents, becoming in effect a 'playground of the rich'. Dr Lyons' findings support this expectation: Londoners who are marginalised in the labour market through unemployment and the casualisation of work are likely to migrate out of the metropolitan area into the rest of the South East, and less likely to migrate inwards from it. But this is not necessarily a global city phenomenon. London shares this trend with the far smaller and economically less powerful cities of Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield. In contrast, in Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, unemployment and casualisation are associated more with living within the metropolitan area.
Not surprisingly, elderly migrants are far more important a share of the housing market in smaller cities than in large ones. Much of this migration appears to involve strategic thinking in terms of the housing market. As the differential between property prices in the South East and elsewhere in the country has grown, the share of South East migrants in the smaller cities has virtually doubled. These people are increasingly inclined to settle inside the metropolitan area of a city, rather than in its more rural hinterland. This suggests that the 'return to the city' ideal is shared by the elderly, as well as the young.
Surprisingly, the percentage of retiring households that take up home ownership is very high, particularly among married couples. Although lower among single women, it still exceeds 60 per cent of women tenants. It is lowest for single retiring men.
Deterioration of neighbourhood status is more common among older households than improvement. This is particularly true of homeowners, and more a characteristic of larger cities than of smaller ones. Clearly, some people might remain trapped in homes that have lost value as a neighbourhood has deteriorated. But this cannot explain the phenomenon among new homeowners. In view of the rapid growth of home ownership in low-status neighbourhoods in all cities, this suggests that some retiring households have undertaken strategic investments, with a view to values rising in the longer term.