I have heard that over the past two years the average size of houses has decreased. This is, at least for me, news of some importance. Until 2009 the average house size in the US and also Australia was steadily increasing. I know, I know, this is just another occasion for Marcus to step up onto the soapbox and opine about the decline of western civilization, but please bear with me for a moment and consider these facts: In Australia, the average house size has increased from 162.2 square meters in 1984 to 227.6 square meters in 2003. As these statistics are somewhat dated (due mainly to my disinterest in searching the internet further) it is reasonable to assume that this number continued to grow through the past decade. My internet search also led me to another staggering discovery. These “up to the minute” figures were obtained from the Australia Bureau of Statistics, which prompted me to immediately search their position openings to see if they needed more help in their “average home sizes” division. I mean, come on, get a grip fellas!
Statistics in the US are – amazingly – up to date, but hamstrung by the fact that the US stubbornly holds onto the imperial system of measurement. Apart from requiring my brain to do math for purposes of comparison, this results in the wife feeling she needs to purchase a cooking apron with the conversion charts written on the front, upside down. It is clear to me now that the powerful lobbyists from the apron manufacturing industry wield substantial influence on America’s ruling elite, “Hey brother, keep my pants’ waistline in imperial and there’s a truckload of 12 inch rulers with your name on them… think of the possibilities!” This resistance to metric measurement causes me considerable further confusion due to the fact that America’s military actively uses the metric system. It’s taught in every middle school science class (and re-taught every year thereafter) and, if adopted by the general populous, would allow an entire generation of weight watchers to see the number on the scales decrease by more than half overnight! It’s a win – win as far as I’m concerned, but anyhoo, back to statistics. In the US, in 1973 houses averaged 1660 square feet (154 m2), growing to 2438 square feet (226 m2) in 2009. 2009 seemed to represent the peak of the growth, and the following year Americans made the calculated decision to not include the home cinema, or heated internal cat playroom in their house plans.
What can be inferred from these figures is a matter of personal opinion. For me, one thing jumped out from the very beginning. Not taking into consideration the difference in years the statistics are taken from, Australians have bigger houses than Americans. At first, this surprised me. It was always my contention that Americans possessed the biggest and the best of everything, but in this area the Aussies trumped the Yanks. Why are houses getting bigger? One obvious reason is that people have more money these days. More money means more stuff, and more stuff means that we need more room to house our stuff. Often when speaking to children that are guests at the camp where I work, I am staggered to discover that not only do they all have their own bedroom at home (nothing special, so did I – but my sisters had to share) but they have their own bathrooms as well. It seems that the relatively modern fashion of en-suite bathrooms now often extends beyond the master bedroom. I have no specific problem with this mind you. This is the case at my in-law’s house and I am immediately grateful each time a dull cramp reminds me that the “kids need to be dropped off at the pool.” Guest bedrooms, for that matter, are also something that is a relatively modern addition to a household. I know that Thomas Jefferson kept a octagonal guest room available at all times for James Madison, but he was the writer of the Declaration of Independence not some shit kicker from downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. The rest of us still roll out a mattress on the living room floor and tell our Aunts and Uncles to sleep well.
Home cinemas, rumpus or family rooms that let the kids watch their telly while the adults watch their own in the “nice” living room, home gyms, home offices, home hot tubs, garages that hold more than one car and rooms built specially for storage are all relatively recent addition to home plans for “the regular Joe.” I must stress that I have no problem with these trends, except to say this, as our houses get bigger they require more energy to build, light, heat, cool and generally operate. And all of this is added to house a family unit that, over the last forty years, has declined from 1.27 children per family in the US to .84 children today. These numbers are really staggering to contemplate; the typical American family today does not even have one full child! The “family unit” is not even the largest occupier of households in the US. That title is taken by couples, who occupy 28.7% of all US households, closely followed by single people with 25.5% occupancy. Only after couples and dudes living alone with their beer pong tables do families with children make an appearance with a paltry 24.1% occupancy. Now before all the social conservatives get their knickers in a knot, let me be clear, I have no problem with increased single or partner-living. I love the thought that there are guys out their hanging framed posters of Jenna Jamison on their walls because they don’t have a (more sensible) partner telling them how stupid it looks. I love that couples can furnish that spare room as a den because they don’t have to paint it pink in preparation for an upcoming birth. I just don’t understand how houses get bigger while the number of people that live in them gets smaller.
When I was a child we had one living room, one bathroom and one TV. On the rare occasions when we were allowed to watch our one TV the possibility always existed that my father could come home from work, walk into the living room and switch the channel. This action was met with severe complaints to be sure, but I think that the increase in house size, easy availability of entertainment, and the separation of the generations in our households denies our youth from one cardinal lesson that I received at this particular moment. Before training his woefully non-multitasking mind onto whatever football game he wanted to watch, my father would glace around as if it had only just now occurred to him that someone else was using the TV. His response was always the same, “Son, did you buy this TV? No? Then I tell you what, you go out and buy one, bring it home and then you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want. Until then, go outside and play with the traffic.”