Big deal? Yes. If predominantly young, first-time purchasers are not entering the home ownership pipeline at anywhere near their traditional rate, at some point the system begins to choke. Owners of modest-priced starter homes find it more difficult to sell and move up. They in turn can’t buy the larger homes they crave, reducing demand for houses in the more expensive categories. A shortage of first-time buyers at the intake level eventually triggers problems all the way up.

Where are these previously dependable first-time homebuyers in their late 20s and early 30s? A new national study released last week offers important clues: A lot of them are carrying such heavy debts from student loans that they’re postponing buying houses.

Researchers for the One Wisconsin Institute found that the rate of homeownership among individuals who are paying off student loans is 36 percent lower than their peers who have no student debt. The disparity can be seen at all income levels. Among individuals who earn $50,000 to $75,000 a year, those who are still paying down student loans have a 28 percent lower rate of home ownership compared with others in the same income group.