what the housing market tells us about human nature

You would think that people would love having a roommate. A roommate lowers ones own cost of housing (if you share the same room) and theoretically, a roommate can help you do all sorts of things (take your dinner out of the oven, come get you if you’re stranded somewhere, or divide household labor).

1. Imagine the most optimistic case: a roommate that is so helpful and fun with chores etc. that you would have a roommate who paid no rent. In fact, you would pay to have this person room with you. This never happens.

2. Imagine next the case of a roommate who was annoying and not great with the chores, but was worth the money they paid in rent. You let them move in because their total cost to you is less than the amount they are willing to pay in rent.

3. The last case is one in which the market rate that a renter would pay you is not more than the disturbance they cause. Such a person lives alone even though they could pay less rent by putting up with a roommate. (Why don’t more strangers get rooms together at hotels? It would lower their cost and give them someone to talk to. As the thrust of this post suggest, we happily pay money NOT to have to talk to strangers).

What I find striking is that given how could a roommate good be, how many people try to reach a level of wealth to afford 3. My point is that living alone is a luxury,  and that it is one of the first luxuries people purchase. In other words, I think the capability for human cooperation is overrated and that people have a fairly strong desire to be alone, or at least to have a place where they can be alone.

But then you also have to think that on second thought, 1 is quite common: in our society it’s called marriage. Without making any assumptions about gender roles, in most marriages where one person works, the partner is so fun and helpful, that the first person essentially pays to have the partner as a roommate.

What this tells me is that without sexual attraction the human race would really dislike itself, of course, it’s not revolutionary to point out the importance of sexual attraction for the perpetuation of our silly little lives.


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