Home and Happiness

How much living space do you need to be happy? Japan Survey Results

As part of a nationwide study carried out by the Association of Real Estate Agents of Japan on the effect of home buying on people’s lifestyles, survey results were recently released regarding the subjective level of satisfaction that people feel about their living situation, especially with respect to the amount of living space they have.

The main takeaway from the survey may seem a bit surprising, as people living in relatively bigger residences (defined as being bigger than 50-sqm (538-sqft)) did not report a dramatically higher level of satisfaction with their home, even controlling for such factors as age, sex, household size, income, assets, and home ownership (versus living in leased housing).

The nationwide internet survey was conducted from April 12th to May 9th, 2014 and included people between the ages of 25 and 49. The initial screening sample included 251,731 people, with a final survey sample of 21,279 people of various income groups and households sizes (from singles to couples and families with children).

The survey found that on a scale of one to ten, young people (aged 25 to 35) living in rental housing of less than 50-sqm reported a subjective satisfaction rating of their residential situation of 6.0, while the same age group who owned their homes (of less than 50-sqm) reported a satisfaction rating of 6.9. The same age group who rented relatively larger homes (defined as being larger than 50-sqm) reported a satisfaction level of 6.4. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the group with the highest level of satisfaction were homeowners who owned a home of 50-sqm or larger.

So the overall result for people in the 25 to 35 year-old demographic showed that homeowners tended to be more satisfied with their housing than renters, and people who live in bigger homes tend to be more satisfied than those who live in smaller homes.

This is not much of a groundbreaking finding, but it does suggest that there does not appear to be a huge “satisfaction gap” between people who live in smaller versus bigger residences (6.o versus 7.3). Further supporting this analysis is that even controlling for demographic factors (as as the age and sex of the respondent) and construction related factors (such as when the home was built), among homeowners (versus renters), the level of satisfaction was almost exactly the same for people who live in houses of between 50-sqm and less than 60-sqm versus homeowners who lived in smaller homes (between 40-sqm and less than 50-sqm).

How much living space should a person have?

As we discuss in detail in a previous post (How much living space does the average household have in Japan?), the Japanese government publishes detailed guidelines on the minimum and recommended (ideal) amount of living space that a person should have to have a “healthy and culturally fulfilling life”.

According to these guidelines,  a single person living by himself in a city center or suburb should have at a minimum 25-square meters (269-sqft) of residential space. The ideal amount of space for a single person living a city is much higher: 40-square meters. If you live in the countryside, the government raises its guidance to a spacious 55-square meters, more than double the minimum recommendation for a city-dweller.

And in reality, how much living space do people actually have?

For the country as a whole, on average, each person in Japan had 13.5-tatami mats of living space or 22.3-square meters. For a detailed breakdown of this data for various cities around Japan, please see: How much living space does the average household have in Japan?

A few international comparisons

Though there are no international housing satisfaction surveys that correspond exactly to the parameters of the one summarized above, let’s look a few examples of surveys that roughly deal with home size and happiness or satisfaction levels.

United Kingdom

In a paper, “The Relationship Between Size of Living Space and Subjective Well-Being” based on the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) published in April 2017, researchers in the United Kingdom found that:

  • Despite having a similar effect on the housing satisfaction of both genders, an increase in living space has only a (weak) positive linear effect on the life satisfaction and mental health of men.
  • Consistent with various theories of adaptation, housing satisfaction increases in the year of the move (to a larger home); then decreases slightly before leveling out. Moving for “larger accommodation” has no positive impact on subjective well-being.
  • Overall the results imply a weak positive relationship between size of living space and subjective well-being, but only for men.

United States

The average American home is  1,901 square feet (176.6-sqm), according to a survey of 29,000 homeowners by the real estate marketplace Point 2 Homes. Australians reported the largest average home size (2,032 square feet), while the average European home ranged from 1,314 square feet in Spain to 1,590 in Great Britain. Americans have an average of 656-sqft of living space per person.

  • However, for many Americans, it seems no house is ever big enough. A 2015 survey by the real estate website Trulia found that 43 percent of Americans would prefer a bigger home than the one they live in now, compared with just 16 percent who would like to downsize. Incredibly, even 25 percent of those living in homes of at least 3,200 square feet still want something bigger.
  • A study by Grace Wong Bucchianeri at the University of Pennsylvania showed that a higher home price had no effect on an owner’s happiness, but additional space did. According this study, having more space per person seems to be a good thing in terms of people’s day-to-day happiness.
  • Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and coauthor of “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending,’’ points out an interesting (and potentially very harmful) link between trying to buy a bigger house in the suburbs and increasing commute time: Commuting is linked to a litany of health issues, and a one-hour commute takes the same emotional toll as being unemployed, she said. “So moving out to the suburbs for a bigger home is likely to be a poor trade-off when it comes to happiness.’’

Questions related to buying a home

Looping back to the Japanese survey, people were also asked about their motivations and feelings about buying a home, as opposed to renting.

For the segment defined as  “young people” (between the ages of 25 and 35), about 60.1% answered that if the monthly mortgage is about the same as the rent would be and if the house were more spacious, it would be better to buy a home”. Almost half of respondents also indicated that it would “feel more secure to own a home because they would have a place to life in old age.”

The survey also asked young people (both male and female) about life events and how certain events might  affect home buying.

  • Exactly 30 percent of this segment answered that “If I buy a house first, it would be easier to have children.”
  • 14.0 percent responded that “If I buy a house first, it will be easier to get married.”
  • 48.6% indicated that “If I have children, it would be better to own a house than rent.”
  • 38.6% said that “If I am married, it would be better to own a house than rent.”

Based on this data, the report concludes that although there is not a strong causal relation between buying a home and getting married or having children; buying a home does appear to play a supporting role in making it easier to get married and to have children.

You may also be interested in: Survey Results on “How Foreigners View the Japanese Housing Market”