Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Love (and Home Buying) Brings Us Together: Married vs. Unmarried Couples in the Housing Market

Our last discussion on home buyers was dedicated to singles, but this one will look at couples making the home purchase together. While these home buyers may be celebrating Valentine’s Day in their new homes, let’s look at their experience in the housing market.

Married couples account for the largest share of home buyers at 61%, while unmarried couples account for 10% of the market. Unmarried couples are notably a sizeable share of the first-time buyer market at 18% of all first-time buyers, up from just 4% in 1985. Overall, the typical age of a married couple purchasing is 53, while an unmarried couple is 47.

Line graph: Household Composition of Home Buyers
Bar graph: First-Time Home Buyer Household Composition

Married and unmarried couples have a sizable leg up in a housing market stifled by both a rise in mortgage interest rates and home prices. Married couples who purchased a home as first-time buyers in the last year typically have a household income of $79,200, while unmarried couples usually have a household income of $72,500. These median incomes give both groups considerably more buying power than single home buyers.

Bar graph: Household Income of Buyers - Married Couples; Unmarried Couples

Perhaps due to age differences and the proliferation of unmarried first-time buyers, unmarried couples are significantly more likely to make financial sacrifices to enter homeownership than married couples. In examining the sacrifices made by unmarried couples, this group more closely mirrors single home buyers than married couples. Both single buyers (46%) and unmarried couples (43%), for example, are almost as likely to cut spending on non-essential goods. Married couples are far more likely not to make any financial sacrifices at 64%.

Bar graph: Common Financial Sacrifices of Home Buyers - Unmarried Couples; Married Couples

The reasons cited for purchasing a home show how different married and unmarried couple home buyers can be. Both are most likely to purchase because they want to own a home of their own. However, the share is quite different: 36% for unmarried couples compared to 16% for married couples. Additionally, the desire to be close to one’s family and because of retirement are more common reasons to purchase for married buyers, while a change in a family situation is more common for unmarried couples.

Bar graph: Top Four Reasons To Purchase Home - Married Couples; Unmarried Couples

When examining location preferences, there are considerable differences between unmarried and married couples. While both place the housing affordability and quality of the neighborhood as top factors, other reasons diverge. While all factors seem more important to unmarried buyers than married buyers, there is a wider spread between the convenience to their job and the convenience to vets and places for pets. Unmarried couples also want to be close to friends and family, which is also important among single women buyers.

Bar graph: Top Factors Influencing Neighborhood Choice - Married Couples; Unmarried Couples

Regardless of how home buyer couples celebrate Valentine’s Day, we hope they enjoy their new home in a new neighborhood. For all buyers who successfully purchased over the last year while facing tight housing inventory and affordability challenges, that is something to be celebrated. For more home buyers and sellers trends, check out the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.