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Who is Buying Tiny Homes?

By Maria Saxton Ph.D.
Oct 31, 2019

Recently there has been a surge of interest in tiny homes characterized as livable dwelling units typically under 400 square feet. There are many stories of people who downsize to tiny houses for various reasons. However, we don’t currently know much about who this population is. For those who are interested in this innovative housing type, understanding trends in the current community may be helpful.

tiny house stats
Photo Credit: The Tiny Life

Past Demographic Findings

The two primary demographics of downsizers are millennials (young adults under 30) who want the freedom not to be tied down by a mortgage and recently retired baby boomers (over 50 years of age) who seek a simplified lifestyle. A literature review generally supports these two demographic categories and shows that these categories are not exhaustive. 

Technavio, a global market research company, found that retirees and individuals over 50 account for most tiny home occupants globally. This number is expected to rise with the increase of baby boomers and early Generation X individuals scheduled to retire within the next decade. In contrast, a survey by The Tiny Life found that approximately 2 out of 5 tiny homeowners are over 50 years of age, with the age breakdown as follows: 21% under 30 years of age; 21% between 30 and 40 years of age; 18% between 40 and 50 years of age; and 38% over 50 years of age.

The literature makes it clear that downsizers choosing to build and live in tiny homes do it for many reasons, including the desire to reduce their environmental impact, live with fewer debts, and have more time and freedom to focus on families, hobbies, and travels. Tiny homes also appeal to preppers and those aspiring to own their own home. Individuals who choose to build their own tiny homes also need to access tools and a workspace and have ample time to dedicate. Few tiny home households have children, although the movement advocates for raising children in small home environments. Overall, individuals, couples, and families making a conscious decision to downsize to tiny homes are all making a conscious decision towards simpler living.

In 2013, The Tiny Life, an online resource for small-scale living, surveyed tiny home households. They identified tiny home occupants' demographic information based on this survey, including age, gender, income, and educational levels. This survey found that more women (55%) own tiny houses than men (45%), and the average salary of individual tiny home occupants is $42,038, which is $478 more than the average American. Tiny home occupants are twice as likely to have a master’s degree as the average American. It is important to note that this infographic does not identify how many actual tiny home households are in the study, so it remains unknown whether these demographic characteristics are generalizable.

For my doctoral research, I explored how the ecological footprints of tiny home downsizers change. Part of this process was to collect demographic data on tiny home downsizers to help us understand trends among this population. This study provided a point of comparison to weigh how Technavio and The Tiny Life’s age breakdowns compare to my findings.

Overview of My Study’s Demographic Data

For my study, survey participants consisted of 80 tiny home occupants who live in the United States, have lived in their tiny home for a year or more, and live in a tiny house less than 500 square feet. These survey participants had reduced the square footage of their prior housing by at least half and are currently living in a tiny home. 

Gender

This study's population primarily consisted of Caucasian (92.5%) females (77%). The Tiny Life, which characterized the tiny home population in 2013, found that women comprise just over half of this particular population (55%). Meanwhile, this study’s findings suggest that women are more represented in this population than men. 

Age

Those between the ages of 55 and 64 were the most represented in my study (33% of the population). These findings are consistent with The Tiny Life’s survey that found 38% of tiny home occupants are over 50 years of age. 

Ethnicity

Respondents were asked to “choose one or more from the following racial groups,” which was followed by a list of six ethnic groups accompanied by a single open-ended response option marked “other.” Over 90% of the participants in this study were Caucasian. The ethnicity of the tiny home population had not been characterized before this study. 

Employment status: The largest group (almost 50%) worked full-time at the time of this study. About one-third of respondents either worked part-time or were retired. 

Annual Income

The most prevalent yearly income (23% of participants) was between $20,000 and $29,999 per year, which is considerably lower than the national median earnings of men ($52,146) and women ($41,977). The second most common income was between $30,000 and $39,999 per year, which comprised 19% of the study population. The Tiny Life found that the average annual salary was $42,038, closer to the national average.

Location

The most significant number of participants (nine) were from Texas, followed by Washington, Oregon, and California (eight each). The survey showed that most study respondents (70%) live in rural settings. Of the remaining respondents, 7.5% live in an urban environment, while 22.5% live in a suburban environment. Past studies did not identify the settings of tiny home occupants. 

Why These Stats Matter 

The Tiny Life survey from 2013 is the only known survey to date that characterized the tiny home population. However, this source does not share how many individuals participated in this survey, making it difficult to determine its representation of the broader population. My research study's findings, which included 80 participants, are the seemingly largest-scale examination of the tiny home population, suggesting that it is the most representative. 

While these statistics help us understand this population right now, more work is done. Groups like the Tiny Home Industry Association are working on initiatives to collect comprehensive data representing all tiny home downsizers.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-02-16T14:39:17+0000
Maria Saxton

Article by:

Maria Saxton

Located in Roanoke, Virginia, Maria Saxton holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Design and Planning from Virginia Tech. She works as an Environmental Planner and Housing Researcher for a local firm specializing in Community Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation. Her dissertation explored the environmental impacts of small-scale homes. She serves as a volunteer board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association.