Millennials are currently the largest group of consumers in the US, and as such have a significant impact on businesses and the economy, an impact which is sure to grow stronger with time. As such, millennials are the frequent subject of speculation about their lifestyles and spending habits, and much has been made online of their supposed “killing” of various industries. Various stereotypes of millennials abound; they are thought of as having short attention spans and problems committing to jobs, but are also recognized for their desire to feel a sense of purpose and community in their professional lives. Whether or not millennials differ fundamentally from other generations when they were the same age remains an open question, but as the spending habits of young people influence various industries, businesses will have to adapt in order to meet the demands of their newest generation of customers.
One such industry is real estate. For various reasons, millennials seem less likely than their parents’ generation to want to invest in purchasing a home—according to a ValueInsured Modern Homebuyer Survey, only 48% of millennials think that buying a home is a good investment. This is a sharp decline from two years prior, when 77% of the same generation believed in the value of purchasing a home. Many explanations have been proposed for the downward trend in millennials’ view of the value of real estate, but one popular theory is that millennials are a generation that values experiences over products, preferring to spend money on ephemeral things rather than physical objects. This theory has gained significant traction among people who seek to understand changes in young people’s spending habits, particularly when it comes to their reluctance to make expensive, permanent purchases like real estate.
When millennials are asked about their views on homeownership, however, the answers they give tend to refute this belief.
However, other theories have been proposed that have less to do with the unique characteristics of the millennial generation and more to do with external pressures. The previously mentioned survey offers different explanations for millennials’ reluctance to invest in homeownership. For instance, 49% of first-time homebuyers are concerned that rising mortgage rates could cause homes that are affordable now to become unaffordable in the future. Other economic anxieties factor into this reluctance to buy houses; 67% of first-time buyers worry that they will be unable to save enough money to buy a house they actually want to live in, and 52% believe that a home they buy now is likely to drop in value within a year. Additionally, 68% worry about the threat of another housing crisis, and 64% worry that they’ll suffer from buyer’s remorse after purchasing a home.
Despite the reality of these widespread economic anxieties, however, many believe that millennials simply choose not to buy houses because they prioritize investing in experiences. When millennials are asked about their views on homeownership, however, the answers they give tend to refute this belief. One of the factors that delays homeownership for the millennial generation is the burden of financial obligations like student debt, which has exploded in recent years, and the slow rate of wage growth over the past several years. However, research has shown that when these financial burdens are lifted, such as when a person finishes paying off their student loans or gets a higher-paying job, rates of homeownership among millennials increase dramatically. That being said, even when the financial burdens faced by millennials are taken out of the equation, many millennials still can’t afford to buy a house. This is because the price of housing has also increased. And while a handful of millennials have taken to a “digital nomad” lifestyle, living in a mobile home and working remotely, this trend appeals to only a small number of people, as such a lifestyle can become immensely difficult both for social and practical reasons. In fact, this trend is likely driven not by millennials’ unique interest in experiences over things, but rather by financial difficulties, as the lifestyle of a “digital nomad” is one of the more affordable ways to live. Nevertheless, the myth that millennials’ spending habits are driven by preferences for experiences rather than financial difficulties persists, and continues to serve as a justification for blaming this generation for killing any number of industries.