Owning a home has been an aspiration of most Americans for decades. The share of households owning their home rose from less than half before WW II to nearly 7-in-10 in the past decade. The kind of home owned and the change of homeownership across age groups also has changed, some in unexpected ways.

In 1940, 83% of single-family homes were owner-occupied and even with the post-recovery surge in single-family rentals, the same 83% of the single-family homes were owner-occupied in 2013. Conversely, only 2% of the units in buildings with five or more units were owner-occupied in 1940 compared with 12% in 2013.

The most common building type remains single-family detached at 82% of all the owned homes, almost identical to the 83% in 1940. The changes in structure types occupied by an owner have been greater ownership in larger multifamily buildings. In 1940, one-tenth of 1% of all owned homes were in buildings with 10 or more units, while 10% were in buildings with two to four units. In 2013, the shares have equalized with 2% in buildings with 10 or more units and 2% in buildings with two to four units. The other major shift has been into mobile or manufactured homes, now making up 6.5% of the owned housing stock up from nearly zero in 1940. Single-family attached made up 6% of the owner stock in both years.

Homeownership always has risen with age as household mobility declines and income and wealth increase. As baby boomers entered prime household formation in 1980, the overall homeownership rate was 64.4% ranging from 43.8% for those 35 and under (the boomers) to 77.4% for the 45 to 64 year olds (their parents). By 2014, the overall homeownership rate has returned to virtually the same at 64.5%, but the homeownership rates for those 35 and under (mostly millennials) have dropped to 35.8%; their parents' (age 45 to 64) rates have dropped to 73.4%. The age cohort with the greatest decline in homeownership has been the current Generation X (age 35 to 44) at 59.7%, down from 70.5% in 1980.

There are two ways to assess homeownership trends: how a specific age group changes across time or how a specific age cohort changes as they age.

The share of households that own their home peaked at 69% in 2004. The number of homeowners increased by 853,000 over the past 10 years while the number of households increased by 8,874,000. The very slow growth in owners compared with the roughly 8 million increase in renters reduced the ratio.

There are two ways to assess homeownership trends: how a specific age group changes across time or how a specific age cohort changes as they age. Most analysis relate homeownership rates for specific age spans across time, as compared above, but a more instructive approach is to look at how each cohort changes its homeownership rate as they age. Observing the homeownership rate for a particular age span across time shows how different sets of households react to changing economic and demographic forces as they age through that span. But comparing an age cohort as they age provides a better understanding of progress toward homeownership given their confrontation with conditions through time.

In that regard, the age cohorts that actually have seen a drop in ownership as they age are those at or over 55 in 2014. From 2004 to 2014, those in their early 50s in 2004 saw a 1 percentage point fall in homeownership by the time they were in their early 60s, and those in their late 50s in 2004 saw a 0.9 percentage point drop by 2014 when they were in their late 60s. Conversely, younger households continued to advance the share owning, but not as fast as prior periods. Households headed by someone in their late 20s in 2004 experienced a 15.8 percentage point increase in homeownership by 2014, and those in their early 30s in 2004 experienced a 5.8 percentage point increase in homeownership by 2014. While a positive gain, ownership advancement was two to three times greater in prior 10-year spans.

Younger age cohorts are still expanding the share of those who own homes, but they are doing so at a slower pace. Meanwhile, older age cohorts actually are reducing the share of those who own as they age.