A neat line of suburban houses in Fairfax, Virginia.
(Robert Knopes/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Americans today are more likely than they were in the fall of 2019 to express a preference for living in a community where “houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted July 8-18, 2021.

A bar chart showing that most Americans prefer to live in a community with houses farther apart, up from prior to the pandemic

There has been a corresponding drop in the share saying they would prefer to live somewhere with smaller houses that are “closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.”

This shift has occurred during the coronavirus outbreak and the accompanying period of telework, remote schooling and pandemic-related restrictions on indoor dining and other indoor activities. Today, six-in-ten U.S. adults say they would prefer to live in a community with larger homes with greater distances to retail stores and schools (up 7 percentage points since 2019), while 39% say they prefer a community with smaller houses that are closer together with schools, stores and restaurants within walking distance (down 8 points since 2019).

To assess how Americans’ attitudes about where they live may have changed since pre-pandemic times, we surveyed 10,221 U.S. adults between July 8-18, 2021, and compared the findings to a similar survey from 2019. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Preferences for communities where houses are larger and farther from retail shops, dining and schools has increased across partisan, age, educational and racial and ethnic groups.

A line graph showing that preferences for communities where houses are larger, farther from schools and retail rise across the board

As in the past, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they want to live in a community with larger houses even if there are greater distances to schools, shops and restaurants. Today, 73% of Republicans say this, up from 65% in September 2019. About half of Democrats (49%) now say they would prefer to live in a more widely spaced community, up from 42%. In 2019, a 58% majority of Democrats expressed a preference for communities with smaller houses and greater proximity to schools and amenities.

While communities with larger houses have generally become more appealing to Americans over the past two years, preferences continue to vary among demographic groups.

A bar chart showing that liberal Democrats prefer walkable communities, conservative Republicans prefer drivable communities

About three-quarters of Americans who describe their own communities as rural (74%) say they would prefer to live in places where houses are larger and farther apart. A narrower majority of suburban Americans (59%) also say they prefer places with larger houses. Americans in urban communities are about evenly split: 49% say they would prefer a community with larger houses that are farther from schools, stores and restaurants, while 50% say they would prefer a community with smaller houses, closer to schools, stores and restaurants.

Majorities of White (63%), Black (60%) and Hispanic adults (56%) say they would prefer communities that are more spread out. By comparison, roughly six-in-ten Asian American adults (58%) say they would prefer to live in communities with smaller houses that are closer together, with greater proximity to schools, stores and restaurants.

While majorities of those in all age groups express a preference for communities that are more widely spaced, those between the ages of 30 and 64 (64%) are more likely than either those under 30 (55%) or those ages 65 and older (55%) to say this. 

Americans with a college degree – particularly those with postgraduate degrees – are less likely than those with less formal education to express a preference for communities with larger houses that are farther apart. More than six-in-ten of those with some college experience or less education (64%) say they prefer living in communities that are more spread out, compared with 56% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 49% of those with a postgraduate degree.

About three-quarters of conservative Republicans (77%) say they prefer communities with larger houses, as do 67% of moderate and liberal Republicans. A narrower majority of conservative and moderate Democrats also say they prefer larger houses, even if farther from schools, stores and restaurants (55%). By comparison, nearly six-in-ten liberal Democrats (57%) express a preference for smaller houses in places where they could walk to schools, stores and restaurants.

Among urban, suburban and rural residents, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say they want to live in communities where houses are larger and more spread apart.

A chart showing partisan gap in community preferences across urban, suburban and rural areas

While about eight-in-ten rural Republicans (83%) say they prefer more spread out communities, a narrower majority of rural Democrats (60%) say the same. Among those who live in urban communities, 63% of Republicans say they would prefer to live somewhere where homes are large, far apart and require driving to other parts of the community; a smaller share of Democrats (42%) express this preference.

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Vianney Gomez  is a research assistant focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.