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  Chapter Five:


  Household Size
  Housing Starts
  Home Ownership
  Machines in the Home
  Automobiles and TVs
  Mobility and Migration



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Housing Starts

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Construction of new housing surged after World War II, and Americans’ preference for single-family detached homes remained strong.
Housing is one of the most cyclical of all industries, as shown in the sharp fluctuations in new housing starts per thousand population each year (see upper chart). During World War I, the Depression, and World War II, housing starts dropped to near zero. After World War II, however, the surge in housing construction was unprecedented. 

The widespread development of suburban housing that got under way in 1946 was inspired by the typical American pattern of rural settlement, where each farmhouse stands alone on its own ground, with its own barns and sheds, surrounded by its own fields and woods, often out of sight of any neighbors. 

The typical suburb consisted almost entirely of single-family detached houses surrounded by their own lawns, gardens, and sheds, and centered on lots that provided at least minimum separation from neighbors, even in low-income and middle-income districts. In more affluent suburbs, houses often reached baronial scale. 

The average new house of 1998 was a relatively large edifice: it typically had two or more stories, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, central heating, central air conditioning, a working fireplace, and a garage. With 2,190 square feet, it was 46 percent larger than the average new house in 1970. 

Although the single-family share of new housing fluctuated, the preference for the single-family detached house was relatively stronger at the end of the century than at the beginning (see lower chart). In 1998, single-family detached houses constituted 79 percent of new housing compared with 65 percent in 1900. The familiar pattern of so-called “suburban sprawl” and peripheral strip development reflects this preference and its requisite low settlement density and heavy traffic density.

Chapter 5 chart 2

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series N 156 and N 159, and SA 1999, table 1199. For the average new house of 1998, see SA 1999, table 1201.


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