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Mental health and prolonged exposure to unaffordable housing: a longitudinal analysis

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When housing is insufficient, or poor quality, or unaffordable there are well established health effects. Despite the pervasiveness of housing affordability problems (widely referred to as Housing Affordability Stress—HAS), little quantitative work has analysed long-term mental health effects. We examine the mental health effects of (prolonged and intermittent) patterns of exposure to housing affordability problems.


We analysed a large, nationally representative longitudinal population sample of individuals, following them over five-year periods to assess the relative mental health effects of different patterns of exposure to housing affordability problems. To maximise the number of observations and the robustness of findings, we used 15 years (2002–2016) of data, across three pooled exposure windows. Longitudinal regression analysis with Mundlak adjustment was used to estimate the association between prolonged (constant over a 5-year period) and intermittent exposure to HAS, and mental health (as measured using the SF-36 MCS).


We found that, on average, both prolonged and intermittent exposure were associated with lower mental health (Beta = − 1.338 (95% CI − 2.178–0.488) and Beta = − 0.516 (95% CI − 0.868–0.164), respectively). When we additionally adjusted for baseline mental health, thereby accounting for initial mental health status, coefficients were attenuated but remained significant.


Both prolonged and intermittent exposure to HAS negatively impact mental health, irrespective of baseline mental health. Interventions that target affordable housing would benefit population mental health. Mental health interventions should be designed with people’s housing context in mind.

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This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the author and should not be attributed to either DSS or the Melbourne Institute

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Correspondence to Emma Baker.

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Baker, E., Lester, L., Mason, K. et al. Mental health and prolonged exposure to unaffordable housing: a longitudinal analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 55, 715–721 (2020).

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