International Housing Comparisons Research Paper Starter

International Housing Comparisons

(Research Starters)

This article will introduce the practice and theory of international housing comparisons. This article will provide a description of the three predominant perspectives and approaches to comparative housing research, including juxtapositional analysis, convergence analysis, and divergence analysis, and will offer a brief discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each perspective. Case studies of housing finance systems and the economics of housing policy will be included to illustrate real world examples of international housing comparisons.

Keywords Comparative Housing Research; Convergence Analysis; Divergence Analysis; International Housing Comparisons; Housing finance systems; Housing Policy; Juxtapositional Analysis



Housing crises and inequalities affect people in developing and industrialized countries alike. In developing countries, many people live in inadequate housing characterized by impermanence, unsafe locations, and lack of access to potable water or sanitary facilities. In industrialized countries, common housing problems include inadequate space, ventilation, or access to transportation. Social scientists (working within governments, aid agencies, and academia) use international housing comparisons, such as international comparisons of physical measures, rents, house prices, mortgages, and ratios of house prices to income, to assess overall health of housing sectors around the world. In addition, international housing comparisons, also called comparative housing analyses, allow researchers to assess the success and efficacy of the housing policies of different countries.

Comparative housing research suggests that the housing problems faced by people in developing and industrialized countries alike can be traced back to failed housing policy decisions. Housing policy refers to the housing rights,standards, and services that characterize the housing systems of individual countries. Housing policy is influenced by country-specific economic and social environments as well as prevailing housing theories (Mayo, 1994).

International housing comparisons and comparative housing research in general, began in the 1970s as a means to assess, address, and remediate inequalities in living standards within and between countries. One of the earliest systematic approaches to international housing comparison was called the structure of housing provision model which referred to the data to be gained from cross-cultural description and comparison of housing supply structures. Stakeholders affected by international housing comparisons, and housing policies in general, include national and local governments, international aid and development organizations such as the World Bank, local lending and banking institutions, local communities, and the individuals who live inside houses or are homeless.

There are currently three main schools, models, and research methodologies of housing research. They include:

  • Particularistic Approach: Juxtapositional Analysis
  • Universalist Approach: Convergence Analysis
  • Middle Range Approach: Divergence Analysis

The three perspectives of comparative housing analysis vary in the extent to which they make generalizations based on the data and apply implicit or explicit theoretical frameworks to explain and justify the similarities and differences observed between national housing systems. The three perspectives form a continuum from highly particular (low levels of generalization between countries) to universal (focus on generalization between countries). These approaches or perspectives will be described and analyzed in the following sections in an effort to provide clear conceptual foundations of international housing comparisons (Kemeny & Lowe, 1998).

Particularistic Approach: Juxtapositional Analysis

Kemeny and Lowe state that, “Particularistic approaches tend simply to juxtapose sometimes detailed descriptions of the housing systems of a number of countries without explaining either the criteria used for choosing countries and data or attempting to develop explanatory frameworks for understanding the differences between them” (1998, p.163).

Juxtapositional analysis of national housing systems is common in social policy research conducted by international development agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations. Data gathered through juxtapositional research is often used to evaluate and rank countries based on their record of performance in areas such as the proportion of gross domestic product spent on housing. Juxtapositional analysis of national housing systems is also used in larger-scale, policy-driven surveys of social life and living standards. These surveys are conducted by national governments and non-profit aid agencies to gather data on which to base policy decisions or funding.

Critics of the particularistic approaches to comparative housing research say that the approach is too-often fragmented, small-scale, and short-term. In addition, critics argue that the tendency of researchers to use the housing structure of their home country as the yardstick against which the housing systems of other countries are measured creates ethnocentrism. This cultural bias may put the validity and use of the research findings in doubt (Kemeny & Lowe, 1998).

Universalist Approach: Convergence Analysis

In contrast to particularistic approaches and juxtapositional analysis, universalist approaches to international housing comparisons are based on the belief that all housing systems are fundamentally similar in their structure and purpose. In convergence or comparative analysis, all countries are either similar or approaching similarity. Universalist approaches are united in their common search for universal laws underpinning housing systems around the world. Universalist approaches rely on macro-statistical data about housing systems rather than qualitative data.

Universalist approaches, using convergence analysis, interpret international housing structures and housing policies as existing on a continuum from less developed to more developed. This focus on continuum development is referred to as the unilinear or convergence perspective. For example, one unilinear model identifies three types of housing policies: haphazard, residual, and comprehensive. These three housing policies represent a continuum of housing policy development from loosely-organized to tightly organized.

Critics of the universalist approaches to international housing comparisons say that this approach is too quick to dismiss difference and variation as insignificant. Global housing systems, in this model, are described as operating within the same confines, continuum, and for the same reasons. The process of change in the housing structure of a country, and urban social change in general, is explained within the paradigm of progress. In addition, critics argue that the factors and issues that universalist approaches identify as most influencing global housing structures, such as the expansion or contraction of the welfare state, reflect changing economic and political trends rather than sustained forces (Kemeny & Lowe, 1998).

Middle Range Approach: Divergence Analysis

Middle range approaches to international housing comparisons mediate the extremes of particularism and universalism. Housing systems are viewed as neither wholly unique nor wholly similar. Instead, the divergence perspective examines housing data from different countries to determine patterns and typologies of housing systems. The middle range approach incorporates quantitative research methods, qualitative research methods, and familiarity with country or region specific cultural and historical contents. An example of a popular topic in the middle range approach is the social meaning of home ownership.

The middle range approach, more than particularism or universalism, contextualizes the patterns and typologies of housing systems within social science research and thought in general. Projects, characterized by the middle range approach, create typologies from housing data and develop an accompanying theoretical explanation for the situation or phenomenon.

Divergence analysis refers to study of the extent to which countries have developed different forms of housing policy. Divergence perspectives...

(The entire section is 3711 words.)