Did Divorce Cause Our Real Estate Obsession?

A new divorce memoir argues that over-the-top spending comes from a desire to create stability.


Our love of real estate is so strong that an entire cable channel (HGTV) is devoted to it. Blogs and websites on the subject flourish. Even relatively affordable home furnishing stores like Ikea emphasize the importance of style; at least one blog (ikeahackers.net) is devoted to making the most of Ikea products alone. The strength of our obsession is obvious, but what drives it?

In Susan Gregory Thomas new book, In Spite of Everything, a memoir of her parents' divorce as well as her own, she attributes the trend to the trauma of divorce, which so many members of generation X experienced. She writes:

"[A]ccording to market research, X spends more than yuppies ever did on luxury goods, especially if it has to do with home. Indeed, Gen X's rapacious need for the perfect nest drove them to take out more home equity loans and spend more on house remodeling, per capita, than any generation before. In the mid-2000s, housing research analysts from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies to the U.S. Census Bureau tracked our mass, and massive, investments in charming old houses in urban and outlying areas; banks now notoriously overextended to us subprime mortgage loans and home equity lines of credit so that we could remodel them into the homiest homes possible."

Gen X, Thomas argues, is so focused on building cozy nests for their own families because they want the stability for their children that they never had for themselves. Like so many of her peers, Thomas had to move from her childhood home in the wake of her parents' divorce. Thomas, a former senior editor at US News & World Report, describes feeling lost, angry, and confused after her father left the family. She knew she wanted to keep her own daughters from ever experiencing that pain.

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With that goal in mind, she married her best friend and together they built an incredible home in Brooklyn, complete with the latest upgrades in home decor. Sadly, her marriage fell apart, and she was forced to survive the one thing she had wanted to avoid: A divorce and splintered home. The lesson is clear: Even the most gorgeous real estate cannot save a sinking marriage.

Thomas' argument is strong and her story mesmerizing, but is she really right? Is it the trauma of divorce that has led to such out-of-control spending at home? Certainly there are plenty of home owners who avoided the experience of divorce but still spend thousands on Sub-Zero refrigerators and granite countertops. Readers, what do you think?