If you rent instead of owning your home you will age faster; here we tell you why

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Research led by Australian and English specialists associates faster biological aging with living as a renter versus those who have their own home, regardless of whether the owner has social or free housing.

The study, which has been published in 'BMJ', has been led by researchers from the Housing Research Center at the University of Adelaide in Australia and the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, Colchester, UK.

The findings suggest that the biological impact of renting a home, as opposed to living in one's own home, is almost double that of being unemployed versus having paid employment. Fortunately, these effects are reversible, highlighting the importance of housing policy in improving health, the researchers say.

Numerous aspects of housing are associated with physical and mental health, including cold, mold, overcrowding, risk of injury, stress, and stigma. But it's not entirely clear exactly how they might exert their effects, the researchers note.

To explore this further, they drew on epigenetic information along with social survey data and signs of biological aging, captured through evidence of DNA methylation in blood. 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 representative data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS, generally called Understanding Society) and responses from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which also became part of Understanding Society.

They extracted the information available in the UKHLS on material elements of the home: tenure; type of construction; government financial support available for renters; presence of central heating as an indicator of adequate warmth; Location in urban or rural area. Psychosocial elements were also included: housing costs; late payments; overpopulation; and move expectations and preferences.

Additional health information was later collected from the 1,420 BHPS respondents and blood samples were taken for DNA methylation analysis. Information on historical housing circumstances was obtained by pooling responses from the past 10 years of the BHPS survey for each respondent.

When analyzing all the data, the researchers took into account potentially influential factors: sex, nationality; Education Level; Socioeconomic status; diet; cumulative stress; financial difficulties; urban environments; weight (BMI) and smoking. Because the pace of biological aging accelerates along with chronological aging, this was also taken into account.

The analysis showed that living in a privately rented house was associated with faster biological aging. What's more, the impact of renting in the private sector, as opposed to freehold (no mortgage), was almost double that of being out of work rather than employed. It was also 50 percent higher than having been an ex-smoker compared to never having smoked.

When historical housing circumstances were added to the mix, repeated delays in home purchases and exposure to pollution and environmental problems were also associated with faster biological aging. However, living in social housing, with its lower cost and greater security of tenure, was no different from freehold ownership in terms of its association with biological aging once additional housing variables were included.

The researchers emphasize that this is an observational study and, as such, cannot establish cause. And the researchers acknowledge several limitations to their findings. For example, there were no contemporaneous measures of housing quality, and DNA methylation data came only from white European respondents.

"Our results suggest that difficult housing circumstances negatively affect health through faster biological aging. However, biological aging is reversible, highlighting the important potential for changes in housing policies to improve health," they say.

And they suggest that their findings are likely to be relevant to housing and health elsewhere, particularly in countries with similar housing policies. "What it means to be a private tenant is not set in stone, but depends on political decisions, which to date have prioritized landlords and investors over tenants," they add.

"Policies to reduce the stress and uncertainty associated with private renting, such as ending 'no-fault' evictions, limiting rent increases and improving conditions can go some way to reducing the negative impacts of private renting," concludes.

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