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The traditional timeline of marriage-house-children isn't holding up, according to a new working paper. 

The first-time homebuyers of today look significantly different from those of 20 years ago, a study from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies found

In 1997, the share of first-time homebuyers who were married was 61 percent and that figure lowered to 52 percent in 2017. The never-married share of homebuyers in 1997 was 23 percent, but that rose to 35 percent in 2017. The share of divorced, separated, or widowed first-time homebuyers remaineded around 13-15 percent throughout the twenty years, according to the report. 

Source: Tabulation of US Census Bureau and HUD, 1997-2017 American Housing Surveys. Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

The age of first-time homebuyers hasn't changed too much over the past 20 years—the median age in 2017 was 34, compared to 32 in 1997—but deeper demographic shifts are revealed in the report. 

The report additionally revealed first-time homebuyers are buying bigger, more expensive homes. The percentage of homes sold measuring less than 1,000 square feet decreased from 19 percent in 1997 to 10 percent in 2017. The home prices in the chart below have been adjusted for inflation, and they show a consistent decrease in the share of first-time homebuyers purchasing homes for less than $100,000. There is also an increase in the share of homes being purchased for $300,000 or more. 

Source: Tabulations of US Census Bureau and HUD, 1997-2017 American Housing Surveys. Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. 

By racial/ethnic group, first-time home-buying rates in 2017 were highest among households headed by an individual who is Asian, multiracial or other race (2.3 percent), followed by whites (1.5 percent) and Hispanics (1.5 percent). Black households, which have historically (and currently) been discriminated against in the housing market, trailed behind at 1 percent.

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