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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An appraisal of the incorporation thesis : housing tenure and political values in urban Canada Pratt, Geraldine J.


The incorporation thesis, which links homeownership and conservative political values, was examined. A dearth of empirical work, as well as the complexity of the argument, which integrates economic, political and social factors, necessitated a complex research design. This included a consideration of the material advantages of homeownership in the Vancouver, British Columbia housing market to establish that homeownership has been a significant source of revenue for the homeowner, through both house price inflation and government subsidisation. Claims concerning the association between homeownership and conservative political attitudes were then evaluated by means of an urban national sample of roughly 2000 publicly available interviews, collected in 1979 as part of the Social Change in Canada study. Housing class, discriminating between renters, mortgaged homeowners and outright homeowners, was consistently associated with political behaviours and attitudes, which ranged from objective measures such as political party affiliation to subjective indicators including attitudes towards planning life ahead. The independent significance of housing class in relation to attitudes was established by controlling for class, SES, household income, education and life-cycle. A striking outcome of this analysis was the finding that the association between housing tenure and political attitudes or behaviour was indeed evident, but only within particular social classes, household income groups and stages of life-cycle. A social profile was developed of those for whom housing class was especially associated with attitudes: low income household heads in skilled nonmanual occupational categories, whose family obligations had perhaps forced them into a marginal homeownership position. In contrast, no association between housing class and political orientation was noted for skilled manual workers. This contrast was taken into a sample of 100 in depth interviews with homeowners and renters in an outer Vancouver suburb in order to understand the processes lying behind the associations. The patterns of association noted for the larger data set were confirmed and linked to institutional memberships. Additional insight from the qualitative depth interviews include an understanding of the links between self-employment and rental status, as well as family life-style choices and housing tenure. The findings of this study throw into question the line of causal imputation advanced by incorporation theorists, while supporting the consumption sector approach to urban politics.

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