Homeownership is traditionally viewed as one of the quintessential milestones of the all-American Dream, but shifting generational trends have begun to redefine what that dream means. Drawing from the National Association of REALTORS®’ Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report, we examine the unique challenges and opportunities facing the younger generations – specifically Millennials and Gen Z – as they navigate the modern real estate market.
First-time buyers accounted for just 26% of all home buyers – a drop from 34% the previous year. Younger Millennials led this category, with 70% buying their first homes, followed by older Millennials at 46%. This notable decline in first-time homebuyers suggests that larger systemic issues are afoot – issues such as affordability and tight inventory – that are especially impactful upon the younger folk; the lower percentage of Gen X first-time homebuyers (21%) further highlights how younger generations are shouldering this burden.
The shrinking percentage of first-time homebuyers indicates larger, systemic issues, such as skyrocketing home prices and surreptitiously stagnant wage growth. Younger people often find themselves priced out of markets, particularly in urban areas where job opportunities are concentrated.
Income, of course, remains a major factor in the pursuit of homeownership; in 2022, Gen Xers had the highest household incomes at an average of $114,300, followed closely by older Millennials at $102,900. While older generations typically have higher incomes due to career progression, younger Millennials and Gen Z still face some fierce financial constraints that make entering the housing market quite the challenge for many.
A key obstacle for younger generations is the bothersome burden of hefty student loans, which can place saving for a down payment and qualifying for a mortgage further out of reach. This financial burden is a common barrier that prevents younger people from owning their own pad, despite having adequate incomes in many cases.
The United States has a dynamic homeownership landscape that varies not only by generation, but also by geography. Currently, 65.5% of occupied housing units are owned, while the remainder, 34.5%, are renter-occupied. Several factors contribute to this distribution, including economic conditions, wage growth, fluctuating home prices, lifestyle preferences, and generational attitudes toward the concept of homeownership.
State-by-state homeownership rates can differ drastically. These variations are influenced by a range of factors, such as domestic migration, population density, and local economic and educational opportunities. States with vibrant urban centers, like New York and California, have seen a more significant drop in homeownership rates in recent years, especially among younger generations who are often drawn to city living but are also impacted by higher property prices.
The difference in homeownership also extends beyond state lines, and is often more pronounced when you examine it by city. Many bustling urban areas are witnessing a sizable decline in homeownership rates; this trend could be attributed to the rising costs of urban living and the appeal of a more flexible, rental-based lifestyle, especially among the younger population. Renting provides the younger generation with lower insurance costs and maintenance fees, no real estate taxes, and a fixed rental amount which they can pay through rent payment apps, enabling them to budget more efficiently.
For Millennials and Gen Z, who are already navigating a complex set of economic and social barriers to homeownership, the geographic component adds another layer to consider; higher wages in urban and coastal areas may draw younger generations, but the prospect of homeownership often remains elusive in these locations due to exorbitant property prices.
Conversely, the more affordable housing in less dense states could offer an alternative path to homeownership, although these areas may lack the job opportunities and lifestyle factors that younger people seek – whichever way they turn, it seems that sacrificing one for the other is part of the deal.
Family dynamics also significantly influence home-buying trends; while the Silent Generation had the highest percentage of married couples at 68%, younger generations have instead exhibited increasingly varying family structures. For example, Gen Z led in single female ownership at 31%, and younger Millennials in unmarried couples at 20%; these stats indicate just how clearly changing social norms regarding partnerships and family are mirrored in homeownership trends.
Traditional family structures are also evolving, and so are the homes that people buy; single women and unmarried couples are becoming increasingly significant players in the housing market, thus changing the type of homes in demand.
Last year (2022) around 31% of all buyers had children under the age of 18 living at home. Notably, 70% of older Millennials had at least one child under 18 at home, suggesting that family expansion is a major driving factor for this group in the housing market.
As Millennials start families, there is a noticeable shift towards suburban living to accommodate the need for more space, better schools, and safer neighborhoods; this trend also inevitably affects housing prices in these areas, often pushing them higher.
Around 14% of homebuyers chose multi-generational homes in 2022. Older Boomers were the most likely to make this choice at 18%, but Gen X wasn’t far behind at 17%. The rise in multi-generational living can be attributed to a combination of economic pressures and evolving family needs, including caregiving and cost-saving.
The trend towards multi-generational homes also reflects economic necessities; rising healthcare costs for elderly family members, combined with the increasing burden of childcare and education costs, make multi-generational living a practical (and at times, unavoidable) choice for many.
Gen X remained the most racially diverse buying group in 2022, with 23% identifying as Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American, or Asian/Pacific Islander. These stats are certainly suggestive of a slowly diversifying real estate market, though there’s still much work to be done to ensure equal access for all.
Despite growing diversity, systemic barriers like credit access and discrimination still impede minority homebuyers; organizations and policymakers must focus on making the housing market more inclusive moving forward.
As younger generations now come to navigate through a maze of economic challenges and social changes, fulfilling the property-ownership piece of the American Dream pie is fraught with obstacles; still, despite the hurdles, millennials and Gen Z are forging their own paths in the real estate market.