Many aspects of housing can affect physical and mental health, from cold to overcrowding. Now, researchers have discovered that renting rather than owning your home can be associated with faster “biological ageing,” potentially leading to inequalities.
Becoming a homeowner is no easy matter. In fact, the housing market is far from accessible to everyone, especially in these uncertain times of tightening mortgage terms and ever-rising interest rates.
And yet, homeownership could play a role in how your body ages, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Essex, UK, and the University of Adelaide, Australia.
The aim of the research is not to urge everyone to become a homeowner, but to highlight the influence of renting – a potential source of stress and challenging living conditions – on physical and mental health.
The biological impact of renting
For the purposes of their study, the researchers drew on epigenetic information – looking at how certain changes (behaviours, environmental factors) affect gene activity – as well as social survey data and signs of biological ageing, observed through the analysis of blood samples, for over 1,400 adults living in the UK.
Other data analysed included housing tenure, building type, potential government financial support for renters, the presence of central heating, location in an urban or rural area, rent arrears and rental charges.
Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, this research found that living in a privately rented home was associated with “more rapid biological ageing,” which translates into an accumulation of cellular and molecular damage.
The findings go even further: “the impact of renting in the private sector, as opposed to outright ownership (with no mortgage), was almost double that of being out of work rather than being employed. It was also 50% greater than having been a former smoker as opposed to never having smoked,” explains a news release accompanying the study.
The importance of housing policy
The study points out that repeated late payments, as well as exposure to pollution or environmental problems, were also associated with faster biological ageing. But the researchers explain that these adverse effects on health are not irreversible, provided that those concerned see their rental conditions improve or their tenure mode change. This leads the researchers to emphasise the “role of housing policy in health improvement.”
“What it means to be a private renter is not set in stone but dependent on policy decisions, which to date have prioritised owners and investors over renters,” the study authors state.
“Policies to reduce the stress and uncertainty associated with private renting, such as ending ‘no-fault’ (Section 21) evictions, limiting rent increases, and improving conditions may go some way to reducing the negative impacts of private renting.” While these conclusions are linked to housing policies in the UK, they could still be applicable to other countries.
However, this observational study has certain limitations, not least because it does not establish the exact cause of the association between housing tenure and biological ageing. In addition, some of the data came only from white, European respondents. – AFP Relaxnews