Since 1973, the size of the average American house has increased from 1500 square feet to 2500 square feet. And since the average number of people in each house has decreased, we have almost twice as much space per person as we did back then. But are larger houses making people happier? There are many potential homeowners unhappy that new construction aims toward large, expensive houses at the expense of affordable first homes, but research shows that homeowners aren't any happier, either. Researcher Clément Bellet found that satisfaction with one's home has remained fairly steady, and wanted to find out why.
This finding, Bellet reasons, has to do with how people compare their houses with others in their neighborhood—particularly the biggest ones. In his paper, which is currently under peer review, he looks closely at the construction of homes that are larger than at least 90 percent of the other houses in the neighborhood. By his calculation, if homes in the 90th percentile were 10 percent bigger, the neighbors would be less pleased with their own homes unless those homes grew 10 percent as well. Moreover, the homeowners most sensitive to such shifts are the ones whose houses are in the second-biggest tier, not the ones whose houses are median-sized.