Monday, August 07, 2006


A President For The 21st Century, Or For Century 21?

There was a little tidbit on AOL news, or whatever they call it, about average new home sizes, and how those numbers have changed over the years. They looked at every third year between 1973 and 2005. So what? It's just a bunch of numbers.

But numbers can be fun. Have you ever looked at a movie and thought that it was really a product of its time? What about movies like Rambo or Red Dawn; can you picture them happening any time other than the Reagan years? Have you ever thought that a movie like Rocky was so well received because its themes and ideas were just what people were so desperately looking for in 1976?

Is it too much of a stretch to wonder if those housing numbers might be some reflection on the mood of the country? Probably not. The stretching part comes when you try to tie it in with the president at the time. Perhaps my limited skills can reproduce the chart for you:
Growing Gains
The average new home has grown - a lot.
Year Average new home (in square feet)

1973 - 1,660
1976 - 1,700
1979 - 1,760
1982 - 1,710
1985 - 1,785
1988 - 1,995
1991 - 2,075
1994 - 2,100
1997 - 2,150
2000 - 2,266
2003 - 2,330
2005 - 2,434

1973 starts us off with a baseline number. Going to '76, we see a growth of 40 square feet. That doesn't seem too impressive. People don't like Nixon and Ford? Gas lines? The beginning of the Carter years don't seem much better at a mere 60 sqft of growth.

Then the second half of Carter and all the inflation and high interest rates that came with it. Even two years wasn't enough for Reagan to prevent the average size from dropping by 50 sqft. But wow, take a look at 1985, up 75 sqft, the highest gain in 12 years! Probably a fluke, you might tell yourself, until you see that Reagan's final three years saw average new home size jump by another 210 sqft. Back it up to 1982 and he jumped house sizes by 285 sqft in six years.

Bush I couldn't even manage a third of that. Three years of his presidency only showed an 80 sqft gain. In his first two years in office, it looks like Clinton suffered from Bush I in the same way, but to a lesser extent, as Reagan suffered from Carter. The three year period from 1991-94 saw a weak growth of only 25 sqft.

However, the next three years saw a bump of 50 sqft by 1997. The dot com years at the end of Clinton's second term saw even more growth. By 2000, average size of new homes had increased by 116 sq ft, giving Clinton a total of 166 sqft over his last six years.

And that's everyone for whom we have a complete record. Bush II is nearing six years at this point, with two years to go. It probably wouldn't be fair to compare him to the rest, would it? The data only goes to 2005 anyway, so we only have five years to go on. Oh what the heck. First three years, up to 2003, the average size climbed by 64 sqft. Not so bad really, surpassed only by Reagan twice and Clinton once. Keep in mind that Bush II's first two years did beat Reagan's (-50), and Clinton's (+25). For the next period, Bush II only has two years to work with, 2004-05. In that time, home sizes jumped 104 sqft. If we average that out to 52 sqft/year, Bush II is on pace to beat every other period on this chart except Reagan's 1985-88 average of 70 sqft/year. If Bush II's averages hold, my math skills suggest to me he might reach 269 by the end of his term. Compared to the Gipper, that's not too shabby.

Of course, those numbers may have abolutely nothing to do with the presidents. That's why numbers are so fun. While correlation might have been shown, causation certainly has not.

At first I thought that if conservatives/Republicans are generally happier, perhaps an air of "extra-happiness" during Reagan and Bush II terms might explain things, but that Pew survey says they're happier whether or not Republicans are in power. Maybe the economy is like the climate, and it just goes in good and bad cycles? Then again, unlike the climate, we can actually control an economy in at least a limited way.

So you tell me. Why do house sizes grow in this particular pattern? Is it only coincidence?
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