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Grant project supported by the Czech Science Foundation, no. 16-06335S. The project started at 1.1.2016 and will be finished at 31.12.2018. The head of the project is Martin Lux, Ph.D.

The project focuses on the future role of housing as an asset for supplementing retirement income, sometimes called asset- (housing-) based welfare (ABW). The interest in this subject is motivated by the process of population ageing. The partial shift from public to private welfare provision is assumed to take place due to unsustainable public pay-as-you-go pension schemes; and housing wealth forms the major part of European households’ wealth. However, the future consequences of ABW on social inequalities among the elderly and social inequalities in general (as a result of changes in inter-generational solidarity ), as well as efficiency and sustainability of ABW itself for future generations against alternative housing market trends, are empirically unexplored in recent research. Situation in post-socialist societies has remained wholly outside the scope of existing research. This project aims to fill in these gaps in existing research, by applying both qualitative research and microsimulation and agent-based modelling.

State of the art and literature review

The project focuses on the future role of housing as an asset for supplementing retirement income. The interest in this subject is motivated by the process of population ageing and the debate on the sustainability of recent public pension schemes in many European countries (Banks et al. 2005; Skinner 2007), including the Czech Republic (Rutarová, Slavík 2005; Fiala, Langhamrová 2013; Janíčko, Tsharakyan 2013). Although using housing as an asset to supplement income in retirement age is still relatively uncommon in the Czech Republic, in a number of Western and Asian countries this practice is more common and it has been discussed already for a longer time.

The increasing rate of homeownership in housing systems in recent decades and the increasing financial burden being placed on public welfare systems has caused a shift in the role of housing, from serving the function of a safe and healthy home, to functioning also as a source of welfare in older age (Doling, Ronald 2010; Toussaint, Elsinga 2009; Doling, Elsinga 2013). With population ageing a phenomenon in most developed countries, the public costs of providing a state pension are becoming unsustainable and options for reform have typically involved putting more emphasis on individual asset accumulation. At the same time, the most common form of household asset is owner-occupied housing and housing assets in general; housing wealth forms the major part of European households’ wealth (Doling, Elsinga 2013; Altissimo et al. 2005; Skudelny 2009; Doling, Ronald 2010). The recent financial crisis and the high level of government debt in many countries have put a further strain on public finances, making the search for sustainable policies for financing retirement even more urgent.

Kemeny (1981) argued that government policy emphasis on homeownership decreases public welfare provision for the elderly because young homeowners, financially hard-burdened by mortgage repayments and child-rearing, resist paying high taxes for public welfare. He also wrote that in societies with ‘poor public welfare provision for the elderly, households are forced to make private provision for the old age’ (Kemeny 2005, p. 62), so they become homeowners in order to minimise the threat of poverty in older age. The inter-relation between the growing emphasis of governments on homeownership and decreasing public welfare provisions for the elderly has been studied on a sample of several OECD countries also by Castles (1998), Doling and Horsewood (2011), and others.

In some Asian and advanced countries, the stronger emphasis on housing assets as a way of supplementing state pensions has become a part of government policy; references are made to asset- (housing-) based welfare (ABW). ABW initially developed as a theory for alleviating (or even preventing) poverty in the face of rising deficits in pay-as-you-go pension schemes. However, contrary to its theoretical intentions, ABW may create and reinforce new wealth-based inequalities both within and across generations. The reasons are straightforward: access to homeownership remains unequal and housing wealth may substantially vary between socially and spatially differentiated groups of homeowners (Levin, Price 2011). The privatization of public housing stock at giveaway prices to tenants of public housing increased equality in access to homeownership in many post-socialist societies (Hegedüs et al. 2013), but this process happened only once, and later cohorts will be unable to benefit from any similar implicit state subsidies (Lux et al. 2013).


As more and more people will use (or are expected to use) housing wealth in older age to supplement income in the retirement years by means of releasing housing equity (or capitalizing other accumulated housing wealth), in the future social inequalities in older age will be defined less by income and more by the value of housing assets. At the same time, there are substantial differences in the values of properties, both regionally and across different social groups of homeowners. Despite this, recent and potential future housing wealth inequalities (defined both socially and spatially) have not yet been explored in the Czech Republic, where housing assets may soon come to be more widely used to supplement state pensions in response to population ageing.

Most recent older generations have been able to benefit from both asset accumulation (housing wealth) and a still generous system of public welfare. The DEMHOW (Demographic Change and Housing Wealth) project demonstrated that the elderly only rarely withdraw housing equity and largely behave in the same way as previous generations, i.e. assets are still by and large subject to inheritance and intra-family solidarity (Blaauboer 2010; Helderman, Mulder 2007; Mulder, Smits 2013; Doling, Elsinga 2013). However, future cohorts of older people, those who are currently in their 30s, 40s and 50s, are already engaging with the idea of housing wealth as a way of supplementing public welfare provision (Wood et al. 2013; Doling, Ronald 2010a). They are therefore unlikely to behave in the same way as previous cohorts. Their attitudes towards ‘spending the kids inheritance’ (Rowlingson 2006) will necessarily change if public pensions are not sufficient to cover their living costs. This disruption of intra-family solidarity will have additional implications for social inequalities – this time across the whole society, i.e. not only among elderly people. However, there is a yet no research exploring the equity consequences that might result from a disruption in inter-generational chains of asset transfers.

Finally, housing price volatility and the impact of ABW on the housing market itself mean that the assumption that homeownership will provide welfare in older age may not be true. Housing ABW presupposes a stable increase in housing prices, so the implications of ABW cannot be analysed separately from the behaviour of housing markets. The East Asian financial crisis in 1997 highlighted the dangers inherent in a welfare system based on homeownership (Ronald, Doling 2012).

Models used to assess retirement savings underscore potential systemic market risks (Crawford, O’Dea 2014; De Nardi et al. 2010; Scholz et al. 2006). In fact, there are clear indications that excess housing-price volatility (called sometimes price bubbles) has been increasing over time in OECD countries (Claessens et al. 2011; Bracke 2011) and consequently housing markets are becoming less stable than in the past. Moreover, population ageing itself may have specific consequences for housing-price trends (Eichholtz, Lindenthal 2014 and other papers discussing Mankiw, Weil 1989): as the young first-time buyer population decreases there is a danger of a housing over-supply and a long-term housing-price decrease that may lead to wealth losses and negative equity. Taking into account the fact that there are some costs associated with releasing equity from housing (i.e. there is a minimum house value for equity release to be effective), increased housing market instability and effect of society ageing on housing prices may prevent a substantial part of the elderly population from releasing income from their housing wealth (Searle, McCollum 2014). Despite the increase in excess housing-price volatility that was painfully demonstrated by the last global financial crisis, there has been no research to date that would assess operation and consequences of ABW against alternative housing market development scenario in the future.

The shift from public to private welfare provision is assumed to take place in all ageing societies due to growing public budget deficits and unsustainable public pay-as-you-go pension schemes, but the future consequences of ABW on social inequalities among the elderly and social inequalities in general (as a result of changes in inter-generational solidarity), as well as efficiency and sustainability of ABW itself in the long term (i.e. for future generations) against alternative housing market trends, have not been empirically explored in recent research. The rationality of ABW cannot be assessed solely in reference to recent developments; it must be examined in relation to potential future scenarios because the impact of population ageing on pensions and welfare will be much more serious in the future than it is now. In other words, research has as yet produced little information on the equity implications of the shift from public pension welfare to private asset- (housing-) based welfare for younger age cohorts, which will necessarily rely on this source of welfare much more than recent elderly, who are still relatively well protected by public pension schemes. Moreover, the situation in post-socialist societies that have not yet been so affected by population ageing, but where the situation is expected to change dramatically in the near future, has remained largely outside the scope of existing research (with partial exception of Hungary that was included into DEMHOW project mentioned above). This project aims to fill in these gaps in existing research.

The research context

The research will be conducted in the Czech Republic. Housing in the Czech Republic, like in advanced countries, is no longer viewed as just a means of satisfying basic needs for shelter and a home; in the eyes of home-buyers, owner-occupied housing is also becoming a natural savings vehicle and the best (and safest) form of household security against unforeseeable events, old-age security, and inheritable capital for children (Lux et al. forthcoming). In 1991, the homeownership rate in the Czech Republic was 38% (co-op housing, similar to owner-occupation in terms of the disposal rights of occupants, made up additional 19% of the housing stock); by 2011, the homeownership rate had risen to 61% (co-op housing made up 10% of the housing stock). The increase in the share of owner-occupied housing in the total housing stock is partly the result of the privatisation of the municipal housing stock and partly the result of the fact that homeownership is by far the most preferred form of housing tenure.

The old-age dependency ratio, defined as the number of people aged 65 and over to the number of people aged 15-64 let, reached the value of 25 in the Czech Republic in 2013, but it is expected to rise to a value of 50 by 2060; the share of people 65+ should within the same period increase from 15% to 31% and the share of those aged 80+ from 4% to 12% (Eurostat 2015, Eurostat 2015a). Although the situation in the Czech Republic is currently more optimistic than that in countries like Germany, Italy, and Japan, the process of population ageing will be all the more intense for that in the future.


Based on an estimate (ČSÚ 2014) of the average price of a flat (or house, respectively) at CZK 1.2 million (or CZK 1.7 million, respectively), the total value of the housing property owned by Czech households in 2014 was equal to approximately CZK 3.5 trillion. Given the growing deficit of the pay-as-you-go pension scheme and the increasing pressure on public welfare due to ageing of the Czech population, the notion of using housing assets to secure sufficient income in old age is coming to resemble a logical solution in the minds of the public. Although there are no official government documents citing asset- (housing-) based welfare as a possible solution to the expected decrease in real pensions in the future, politicians have frequently made comments in the media underlining this option. And this is partly because the attempts at real public pension reforms to date have been unsuccessful, while the homeownership rate has simultaneously increased substantially in the past two decades.

Research objectives

The main goal of the project is to predict the effects of the growing role of housing as a source of income-generating security in old age: the effects on current and future social inequalities among Czech elderly and, owing to expected changes in intergenerational solidarity, on social inequalities in Czech society as a whole. The project also seeks to examine the sustainability of this kind of housing-based welfare against alternative housing-market trends. The primary objective of the research is outlined in the following research goals:

  1. Identifying current inequalities in access (affordability) to owner-occupied housing and in the actual distribution of housing wealth and housing wealth gains/losses (measured by past house price changes) among different social groups, regions and major cities in the Czech Republic.
  2. Identifying the significance, scope and form of intergenerational transfers relating to housing in Czech society as a whole and specifically for individual social groups and strata.
  3. Identifying the expectations amongst the current middle-aged homeowners regarding the use of their housing wealth for increasing retirement income in the future, and doing so also in the case of alternative development scenarios of pension systems, demographic situations and housing markets.
  4. The use of the above information to predict the implications of housing ABW for future (a) inequalities among the elderly and (b) general social inequalities generated by changes in intergenerational housing wealth transfers, under alternative demographic trajectories and housing-market projections.
  5. Testing the sustainability of housing ABW for different segments of society under alternative demographic trajectories and housing-market projections.

Particular attention will be paid to the impact of changing demographic trends, changes in patterns of homeownership, the evolution of housing prices and housing-price volatility on wealth and social inequalities among different cohorts and social groups. Goals (4) and (5) represent a significant methodological contribution to basic research as to date these projections have not yet been explored. The main research questions elaborated from the research goals are the following:

  1. What is the current distribution of housing wealth and housing wealth gains in Czech society, both socially and spatially?
  2. What is the current size and form of intergenerational housing wealth transfers, and are housing wealth inequalities reproduced across Czech generations?
  3. What are the expectations of the current middle-aged homeowners concerning their future use of housing assets during older age and what are their expectations concerning family transfers during housing acquisition of their children?
  4. What impact might housing ABW have on the future distribution of wealth and social inequality among elderly?
  5. What impact might housing ABW have on future transfers of wealth across generations and how might it then affect broader social inequalities?
  6. How will these impacts vary when different demographic trends and projections for the evolution of housing prices and their volatility are considered?
  7. How can policy help to address these challenges?

Although the research will be conducted in the Czech Republic, research questions (1) and (2) will be explored comparatively using references (existing studies) and foreign national and international household survey datasets (including EU-SILC survey). Despite the fact that the research also intends to look at policy implications, simulating the future impact of housing ABW on social inequalities has remained unexplored by basic research. The methodology of simulations may serve as a useful benchmark for similar models that may be developed in other countries in the future.

The application of housing ABW is context-sensitive; in other words, it may have differing appeal and consequences in different housing contexts. The second, supplementary objective of the project, which is linked to the main project goal, but further amplifies its international scope, is therefore an assessment and comparison of housing systems, finance, markets and policies among different European countries. Differences in homeownership rates, housing tenure structures, the provision of social and private rental housing, and the accessibility of appropriate housing finance tools (such as, equity release mortgages) are especially relevant when predicting the impact of housing ABW in the specific Czech context. The international comparisons of housing-system and housing-finance (market) contexts will be performed using the Critical & Context-Sensitive Housing Research Methodology (C&CHRM) followed by previous Czech Science Foundation project. Its aim is to assess policies and markets (1) in critical spirit to previous methods and assumptions applied in housing research and practice, and (2) with focus on institutional (both formal and informal) contexts that bound household behaviour and may cause that practices effective in one context do not have to be necessarily effective in other context (for example, North 1991).

The C&CHRM concept will not only be applied in our research; we have already encouraged international researchers to employ it through publishing with new international open-access online discussion platform Critical Housing Analysis, which we launched in 2013 (http://www.housing-critical.com). The editorial board of this new journal is made up of outstanding junior and senior academics including several editors of mainstream scientific journals. In 2014, we published the first two journal issues, which contained papers submitted from authors from various countries, including China, Spain, UK, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands and the US. Its aim is to provide online discussion space, hitherto lacking, for housing researchers coming up with thoroughly new, innovative, critical and marginalized solutions in housing research. We will prepare a special issue on housing ABW in Critical Housing Analysis and will present the findings from our research there; but this project will help to encourage the publication of other housing-research papers using the C&CHRM concept in this new international journal.

Relevance of the project

Over the past three decades population ageing has become an increasingly more prominent issue in research (Lee, Mason 2011; Lutz et al. 2008; European Commission 2014). The ageing of society will have far-reaching implications for public welfare, macroeconomics, housing provision, social care and tax policies. The increasing old-age dependency ratio represents an added and heavy burden to the already indebted public budgets of European countries; and solutions that are based on raising taxes are constrained by globalization (owing to the effect of tax hikes on the competitiveness of national economies) and the willingness of future generations to be burdened by additional taxes. Logically, alternative solutions are sought in the more extensive use of private wealth to support decreasing real values of public welfare; and housing plays a primary role in this process as it forms the dominant form of household wealth in most European countries.

Despite the fact that the partial shift from the public to the private provision of welfare will represent the most radical change in welfare policies since the end of WWII, we still know little about the overall impact this change may potentially have on society in the future. And, when considering the increasing instability of housing markets, the question is even whether the shift towards ABW will ‘work’ at all, or whether it will ‘work’ for all segments of homeowners. The use of housing wealth to increase retirement income by the elderly in recent years has been described in research (see the overview by Searle, McCollum 2014), but the rationale of housing ABW can only be relevantly assessed against future scenarios – i.e. in reference to the generations that will be more heavily impacted by population ageing and decreasing real pensions than the recent generation of elderly. This is especially relevant for some post-socialist countries, such as Czech Republic, where the process of population ageing started later but will develop dramatically in the near future.

Methodology

Each research question will be operationalized into a set of hypotheses, the full list of which is not presented here for reasons of space. In the case of research question (1), the hypotheses are for example that (1) the current distribution of housing wealth and (2) housing wealth gains is regionally unequal and that (3) there exist significant social inequalities in access to owner-occupied housing, (4) in the level of housing wealth in the sub-group of homeowners and (5) the level of housing wealth gains in the same group.

In order to test research question (1) we will apply standard statistical tests and indicators of inequality. For the analysis of the spatial differentiation of housing wealth and wealth gains we will use regional time-series data on the housing prices between 1998 and 2014 from the Czech Statistical Office, and supplementary data from the Institute of Regional Information on housing price trends in 14 regional capitals between 2000 and 2014. For the analysis of the distribution of housing wealth among socially differentiated groups and strata the team will use data from the Housing Attitudes 2013 survey in which the homeowners were asked to estimate the current value of their property, and data from the national EU-SILC survey, which contains the same variable. The research team already has these data at its disposal. By combining household data with price data we will be able to partially estimate the distribution of capital gains in the population. These estimates will be further adjusted using data on price trends in individual housing segments (according to the size of the flat, the construction material used, the technical standard) between 2007 and 2015 observed from publicly unavailable dataset of Česká spořitelna (the second largest mortgage lender in the Czech Republic). The last data set is drawn from property valuations during mortgage approval and is also used to build this bank’s residential price index. Our long-term collaboration with Česká spořitelna has made it possible for us to use these data for research purposes free of any charge.

Research question (2), concerning the extent and form of intergenerational transfers of housing wealth in the CR, will be studied using data from the Housing Attitudes 2013 survey and where necessary also data from the Czech Household Panel Survey, both of which contain detailed information on people’s sources of financing for purchasing housing and on the use of intergenerational assistance (across several generations) to purchase housing; no additional research on this this subject will therefore be necessary. The project team has secured access to data from both sources at no charge. In order to test the hypotheses on the distribution of intergenerational housing wealth transfers and on the potential reproduction of inequalities in housing wealth we shall use linear and logit models (the dependent variables will be the fact of such a transfer occurring and the amount of the transfer).

To address research question (3), concerning the views and expectations of the current middle-aged homeowners (aged 25-40) regarding the use of housing wealth to increase income in retirement, we shall use both a quantitative survey (questions will be included in an omnibus survey conducted regularly by CVVM, Czech public opinion research centre operating under Institute of Sociology), and qualitative sociological research; the latter will involve six focus groups conducted in three different cities in the CR. A quantitative analysis of data from large surveys is usually unable to reveal the significant qualitative contextual variables in the background of the formation of expectations. Consequently, qualitative sociological methods (focus groups) will play an important role in the project’s methodology. The focus group method was chosen because it has the capacity to reveal the specific conditions that influence expectations and at the same time it allows different views and perspectives to be confronted during discussion.

The cities for the qualitative part of the research will be selected on the basis of the results of research question (1) with a view to ensuring the selected cities differ in terms of the average level of housing wealth and/or housing wealth gains: this design will make it possible to observe the differences in expected behaviour in different contexts. The main target population are middle-aged homeowners, differing by sex, marital status, and type of housing (flat or detached house). Respondents will be recruited using data from the Land Register, by directly contacting respondents in the selected cities, and where necessary using the snowball method. All focus group discussions will be recorded, transcribed, and processed using qualitative sociological research techniques.

  1. Research goals (4), (5) and (6) represent the main added value of the project for European research. Here, we will employ dynamic microsimulation techniques (structural models) to explore the impact of housing asset-based welfare on the distribution of wealth and social inequalities under alternative trends in the evolution of homeownership rates, housing market conditions and demographic trajectories. The work will involve three key stages:
    Developing a dynamic structural model to observe the evolution of individual wealth, which allows for uncertainty in individual incomes, housing wealth and pension savings; this model will serve as the basis for an analysis of how wealth would evolve under alternative demographic trends and housing-market conditions.
  2. Estimating any necessary parameters of interest, for example parameters relating to the evolution of individual income and housing prices, using secondary data.
  3. Using the model to analyse the distribution of wealth and impact on social inequality under alternative demographic trends and housing-market conditions.

The microsimulation modelling will be based on results from the preceding stages of the research (the current distribution of housing wealth and intergenerational transfers, and the future expectations of the middle-aged homeowners), and also from official demographic predictions (ČSÚ 2013, ČSÚ 2014a) and predicted trends in housing conditions (Lux, Sunega 2010). The volatility of housing prices will not be only roughly estimated, it will also be modelled: based on the changing behaviour of housing market agents under changing norms and price trends in the specific Czech context. The implications of the ABW will therefore be tested using not just microsimulation structural modelling techniques (a list of structural models constructed for other purposes can be found, for example, in Li 2013), but also agent-based modelling, which has the capacity to take into account the effect of social interactions, imitative behaviour, norms and herding on changes in the behaviour of individual actors in the housing market. The main source data will be the datasets from the annual Family Budget Survey and EU-SILC from the Czech Statistical Office, which will be obtained for this purpose. While we plan to use SPSS and STATA software for structural modelling, for the agent-based modelling we plan to use NetLogo software. The research team already has all these software applications at its disposal. The team has also extensive experience with the use of advanced statistical and econometric methods, with structural and agent-based modelling, and forecasting the Czech housing market (Lux, Sunega 2010a) or housing conditions (Lux, Sunega 2010).

The methodology for the project’s supplementary objective (the assessment and comparison of housing policies, finance and markets in different countries) will consist of methods of international comparative research adjusted according to the C&CHRM concept applied, for example, recently by the research team in Stephens, Lux, Sunega (2015) or Hegedüs, Lux, Teller (2013).

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