The age at which people give up on homeownership, and more!

A home for sale in Ontario, Canada, in March. (Della Rollins/Bloomberg News)
8 min

When do people stop owning a home? Thus asks J.D. Zahniser of St. Paul, Minn., who specifically wants to know at what age homeownership starts to drop in the United States, and whether it varies by income, education and race. She also wonders if state of residence matters: Do more people in Northern states give up on winter and move?

Brilliant question! We’ve often looked at when homeownership begins, but rarely when it ends.

In America, most people don’t become homeowners until age 35. By the time we hit our 70s, about 80 percent of households own their own home, according to our analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Homeownership remains steady throughout most of our 70s, dropping only as we near 80. (We’re focusing on households and the demographics of householders to avoid counting as homeowners people such as adult children living at home or retired parents who live with a family member.)

“When homeownership begins to fall is when retirees start seeing disabilities that will prevent them from living on their own,” economist Angie Chen at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College told us. “So they may be moving in with family or into an assisted-care facility.”

Of course, that chart above includes households whose ownership is shared with a bank. Most of us don’t own our homes outright until after age 65, when the number of true homeowners finally passes the number of people writing mortgage checks.

J.D. wrote that she herself is in the process of moving from her St. Paul home to a rental unit in the same city “despite this past looong and horrible winter.” As she correctly guessed, there’s a strong geographic element to when homeownership begins to fall.

The colder it is, the earlier people give up their homes. In Northern states from Montana to Maine, homeownership peaks from 65 to 69, while in the Sun Belt it tends to peak from 75 to 79.

We’re only comparing resident owners and renters here, so it’s not just that people are fleeing for warmer climes. When the Northerners drop out of one state in our measure, they are instead measured in their new state. This suggests that a substantial group — perhaps including some widows and widowers — sell their homes and move to local rental communities where somebody else is responsible for shoveling snow. It’s also likely that homeowners are better positioned than renters to cash out, sell their homes and high-tail it to the Sun Belt.

J.D. asked whether education and race play a role in when you give up your house. The answer surprised us.

Education and race determine how likely you are to own your home through much of your life, but age is the great equalizer. If we survive to age 90, we’re all about equally likely to have left our homes for rentals at all education levels, from high school dropouts to those with advanced degrees.

While different groups have different ages at which homeownership peaks, that seems mostly to be determined by how high their rates of homeownership climbed before the gravity of age kicks in and homeownership begins its slow descent to around 64 percent at 90.

Most racial groups show similar patterns, though BC’s Chen reminds us that survival bias may be at play here. Less-educated or Black Americans die earlier on average, and the lucky few who make it to age 90 may not be representative.

And the national pattern doesn’t hold for all racial groups. Native and Asian Americans are outliers: Homeownership tends to drop at earlier ages for Asian Americans, while it barely drops for Natives.

The countries sending the most tourists to the U.S.

Tens of millions of overseas tourists flock to the United States each year, single-handedly keeping America’s purveyors of creepy plush toys afloat. Where do they — the tourists, not the creepy plush toys — come from?

The pandemic scrambled everything you ever knew about overnight-visitor data from the National Travel and Tourism Office — which, if you’re reading this column, might be a surprising amount. (Overnight visitors include holders of business and student visas, but about 85 percent are tourists).

For years, the highest share of tourists crossed the Atlantic from Europe, with arrivals from Asia ranking second. But during the pandemic, visits from Europe and Asia plummeted as travel restrictions swept the Eurasian supercontinent. For the first time on record, South America briefly became the top source of international visitors to the United States. It held that spot through most of 2021, before being overtaken by a reopening Europe.

It’s unclear whether travel trends will ever return to what we still stubbornly insist on calling “normal.” Tourism from Asia has been particularly slow to recover, even as travelers from other continents appear to be rapidly rebooking their trips to New York, Miami and L.A.

Only about 18 percent of tourists are currently arriving in the United States from Asia, down from about a third pre-pandemic. South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese are visiting at tiny fractions of the rates they did before the virus hit. Of Asia’s onetime tourist titans, only India has posted a near-complete recovery.

Until shockingly recently, India didn’t even rank among the top 20 countries sending travelers to America. By 2020, when the novel coronavirus began its spittle-borne spread, India was on the verge of cracking the top 10. Now, with India poised to overtake China as the world’s most populous country, it has seized a spot among the top five or six sources of U.S. visitors. (Most Indian visitors are tourists, but like China, India also sends an unusually large share of students.)

India is far from overtaking the true tourist leaders, however. Canada and Mexico have insurmountable leads, aided by 5,525 and 1,954 miles of America-front real estate, respectively. Our neighbors to the north have long held the top spot, though Mexico passed them during much of the pandemic. The United Kingdom, Germany and France round out the top five, though that could change as pandemic travel restrictions ease in East Asia.

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Those are national numbers. But the biggest source of tourists varies by state. Each global region has its own preferred set of U.S. destinations, with European, African and Middle Eastern tourists typically starting in New York, according to the I-94 forms on which visitors report their first destination on U.S. soil. Tourists from South and Central America and the Caribbean typically begin in Florida, while tourists from Asia and Oceania start in California.

The U.K. leads in most states, but India is now the top source of tourists in most of the Midwest, according to the I-94 data. Japan leads in Hawaii, Colombia leads in Puerto Rico, and Germany and Italy have eked out leads in a few states in the Midwest and South.

India’s prominence in heartland travel (including business and student visitors), like its high ranking in U.S. tourism overall, is a recent development. In 2019, before the novel coronavirus emerged from China and changed travel patterns from that people’s republic, perhaps permanently, China was the top supplier of travelers to many of America’s most populous states, including California, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The best question we can’t answer

Which profession dislikes its own clients or customers the most? I could understand doctors, lawyers, real estate agents or hotel staff. Actually, I could understand ire from most workers, if they work with customers or clients directly. But my hunch is that it’s baristas.

— Andrea Eller in Washington, D.C.

Brilliant question! We could perhaps estimate which occupations spend the most time dealing with customers, but we doubt that would correlate perfectly with customer antipathy. If anyone comes up with some clever way to measure this one, please let us know.

Until then, all we can say for sure is that the profession that dislikes its customers the most is definitely not newspaper columnist. Reader submissions are the highlight of this job. (Keep them coming!)

Hi there! The Department of Data turns quantifiable questions into columns. What are you curious about: Which state’s residents are most likely to participate in protests? What countries are the world’s biggest wine exporters? What Canadian cities have the largest American populations? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll send an official Department of Data button and ID card. This week’s buttons go to J.D. and Andrea, as well as to Julie Garel in Bethesda, Md., who asked about top tourist destinations.