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Journal Article

The relationship between size of living space and subjective well-being


Publication date

Apr 2017


Against a background of shrinking new homes and forebodings of "rabbit hutch Britain", the relationship between size of living space and subjective well-being has never been more topical in the UK. Using the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and fixed effects regressions, this paper is the first to examine this relationship comprehensively. Two pathways are proposed between space and subjective well-being. First, space facilitates values and activities. Second, space signals wealth which in turn influences social status. It is proposed that wealth is a more important determinant of status for men than women, and that pathway two is therefore gendered. Part one of the paper examines the effect of a change in number of rooms per person on housing satisfaction and subjective well-being in the BHPS as a whole. 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. This suggests that space affects subjective well-being through pathway two, status. Part two of the paper tracks the housing satisfaction and subjective well-being over time of those individuals who move for "larger accommodation". Consistent with various theories of adaptation, housing satisfaction increases in the year of the move; then decreases slightly before levelling 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 wellbeing, but only for men.

Published in

Journal of Happiness Studies

Volume and page numbers

18 , 427 -461





Area Effects, Psychology, Households, Well Being, Housing Market, and Sociology Of Households


Open Access; This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.; © The Author(s) 2016

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