Renting – but not owning – a house or flat ages people quicker, according to a new study.
Researchers found that letting, rather than owning a private sector home, is linked to faster biological aging.
But they say the effects are reversible, emphasizing the role of housing policy in health and well-being.
The study shows that renting, falling repeatedly into arrears and exposure to pollution in the vicinity are linked to faster “biological” aging – the cumulative damage to the body’s tissues and cells, irrespective of actual age.
The biological impact of renting, as opposed to owner occupancy, is nearly double that of being out of work compared to having a paid job, according to the findings published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Study author Dr. Amy Clair said: “The analysis showed that living in a privately rented home was associated with faster biological aging.
“What’s more, the impact of renting in the private sector, as opposed to outright ownership – with no mortgage, was almost double that of being out of work rather than being employed.
“It was also 50 percent greater than having been a former smoker as opposed to never having smoked.
“When historical housing circumstances were added to the mix, repeated housing arrears, and exposure to pollution/environmental problems were also associated with faster biological aging.
“Living in social housing, however, with its lower cost and greater security of tenure, was no different than outright ownership in terms of its association with biological aging once additional housing variables were included.”
The research team drew on “epigenetic” information alongside survey data and signs of biological aging, captured through evidence of DNA changes in blood samples.
Epigenetics describes how behaviors and environmental factors can cause changes that alter the way genes work, while DNA methylation is a chemical modification of DNA that can alter gene expression.
They used data from the representative UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) and survey results from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS).
Other factors evaluated included: housing costs; payment arrears; overcrowding; and moving expectations and preferences.
Additional health information was collected from the 1420 BHPS survey respondents, and blood samples taken for DNA methylation analysis.
Because the pace of biological aging quickens in tandem with chronological aging, this was also factored in.
Dr. Clair added: “Numerous aspects of housing are associated with physical and mental health, including cold, mold, crowding, injury hazards, stress, and stigma.
“But exactly how they might exert their effects isn’t entirely clear.”
The researchers acknowledged limitations to their findings, including the fact there were no contemporary measures of housing quality, and the DNA methylation data came only from white, European respondents.
But Dr. Clair said : “Our results suggest that challenging housing circumstances negatively affect health through faster biological aging.
“However, biological aging is reversible, highlighting the significant potential for housing policy changes to improve health.”
Dr. Clair, a social policy researcher at the Australian Center for Housing Research and a research associate at the University of Essex, says the findings are likely to be relevant to housing and health elsewhere, particularly to countries with similar housing policies.
She added: “What it means to be a private renter is not set in stone but dependent on policy decisions, which to date have prioritized owners and investors over renters.
“Policies to reduce the stress and uncertainty associated with private renting, such as ending ‘no-fault’ Section 21 evictions, limiting rent increases, and improving conditions – some of which have happened in parts of the UK since these data were collected – may go some way to reducing the negative impacts of private renting.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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