While many millennials want to buy homes, various economic hurdles are creating challenges around affordability, which has a direct effect on home buying.

Average student debt spiked from $12,600 to $40,600 from 1992 to 2019

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Tuition cost at a four-year school is 250% higher* than it was in 1964

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Average student debt spiked from $12,600 to $40,600 from 1992 to 2019 (in dollars adjusted to inflation) according to the Survey of Consumer Finances1. That’s mainly because the tuition cost at a four-year school is 250% higher2 – adjusted for inflation – than it was in 1964, when the oldest baby boomers started attending college. Although college graduates’ earning power will likely increase over time, this is still a drag on the ability to buy a home.

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Even though millennials comprise the largest percentage of the workforce and are the best-educated generation, they controlled only 4.6%3 of the U.S. wealth in early 2020. This is in contrast to baby boomers, who controlled 21% of the nation’s wealth when they were about the same age in 1989. “People born after 1980 have just experienced lower rates of economic growth in their early adult years than anybody had seen in the 20th century,” labor economist Gray Kimbrough, an adjunct professor at American University in Washington told Quartz.com4.

This economic anxiety has spurred a few well-documented trends, according to Pew Research5:

  • It’s less likely millennials will live with a family of their own than previous generations did at this point in their life.
  • Millennials are getting married later and are waiting longer to have kids.
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Also, 42%6 of millennials have bought a home by the time they’re 30 years old, which compares with 51% of baby boomers and 48% of Gen Xers at the same age.

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Debt plays a role in these numbers, as does a different mindset for people 40 and younger, said Corey Ross, Director of Consumer and Marketplace Insights at Whirlpool Corporation.

“One of the things we’ll likely continue to see is a re-evaluation of homeownership,” Ross said. “I do think it's somewhat on the back burner for these generations and not a be-all/end-all at this point in their lives. This is unlike prior generations, which were very much sold on the notion of owning a home.”

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Although current interest rates are much lower now than when Gen X or baby boomers were shopping for homes in their 20s and 30s, prices are also going up for new and existing homes because of the tight inventory. To prepare, today’s younger generations are starting to save more money to buy homes:

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Despite the economic hardship younger generations are enduring, for many this might just delay – not eliminate – the pursuit of a home of their own.“One of the things that has to be considered is that marriage and kids may trigger the desire to purchase a home,” Ross said. “Some of those things that normally drive the demand for homeownership are getting delayed longer than in prior generations."

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SOURCES

1 First American, “First American Why the Student Loan Debt Burden is Overstated”

2 AARP, A Look at College Costs across Generations (PDF download)

3 CNBC, “Millennials own less than 5% of all U.S. wealth”

4 Quartz, “US millennials were grappling with the inequality of a K-shaped economy long before Covid-19”

5 Pew Research Center, “As Millennials Near 40, They’re Approaching Family Life Differently Than Previous Generations”

6 Chicago Tribune, “Millennial renters are giving up on homeownership, as COVID-19 and financial struggles make 1 in 5 say it’ll "never happen”

7 Clever, “2021 Millennial Home Buyer Report”

8 Magnify Money, “74% of Millennials and Gen Zers Have Been Mad at Their Partner for a Financial Decision They Made”

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