I’ve seen people loose their homes. I’ve seen people loose their shirt in the stock market. I’m old enough to be aware of people who kept their retirement funds in cash when high inflation hit in the 1970s. There are no guarantees with investments, which is why its recommended that you diversify. Why you need to understand what you are doing. Why you want to have liquid assets (cash) on hand to pay six months of living expenses (more if you have the sort of job where it will take longer than six months to find a job).
Real estate as an investment covers a lot of ground other than the rent/buy scenario. I know several people who have done quite well buying small houses, fixing them up, and then being landlords. They do quite well because its cheaper to own than to rent - especially if you are handy - and because we are in a relatively tight rental market. I know people who have done ok flipping houses, and a few who were sitting on too much flip inventory in early 2009 who are broke now. I know people who own acreage in Northern Minnesota - appraised for a lot, but when the neighbor tried to sell his acreage he found the market didn’t support the appraisal.
And, this is like the stay at home parent debate, there is a lot of emotion. I know people who would never rent again because their building went condo, or the new landlord jacked the rent, or because they have an emotional tie to owning. Likewise, I know people who would never consider owning - the plumbing is someone else’s problem, they like being able to move with little notice and find the idea of being tied to one city through real estate frightening.
To evaluate whether any individual rent buy situation comes out rent or buy, you need to look at all the factors in the situation. You can’t make any sort of blanket statement. There are two big factors on whether owning a home will be successful - the home (its location, its curb appeal, its upkeep, etc.) and the people buying (financial security and responsibility, are they the homeowning type, etc.).
My ex husband and I bought a home together - and after he left he bought and lost another home. He isn’t a homeowner. He doesn’t take care of his property. His employment is too variable for a mortgage and he isn’t a good saver for the lean times. Although without the house, his family would have been on the streets a lot faster than if they’d been unable to pay rent. He isn’t a good homeowner.
Me, I bought another home. Its appreciated from $190,000 in 1998 when we bought it to about $280k now. Not huge appreciation. I had it paid off ten years ago, but took out a small mortgage on it to leverage - which has worked out darn well to date, my interest rate on the house is low and I write it off, and the stock I invested in pays at least that in dividends and has had gain on top. I pay a $300 mortgage, $300 utility bill and $300 in taxes every month. I couldn’t rent 3000 square feet in a suburb with a decent high school commuting distance from work for $900.