Young Australians are worrying about where they are going to live.
A new report shows that many members of Generation Y want homes in the cities, suburbs and towns that keep them close to family and friends. But they’re unsure how to live in those places in the long-term because housing is so expensive.
The Life Patterns project at the University of Melbourne has tracked the lives of a group of young Australians since 2005, when they were then in Year 11. Most of them are turning 30 this year, many have left higher education, are working and are in relationships. In other words, they are ‘settling down’.
But finding a place to settle is proving an ongoing challenge, with Gen Y struggling to secure a home more than the generation before them.
Gen Y, or millennials, prioritise job security and meaningful relationships. They also want stability in where they live and to live close to the people who mean the most to them.
One young man reflected on his desire to return to his local area once he and his partner had saved enough money for a housing deposit: “It’s where my connections are… it’s where my family is. It’s where my girlfriend’s family is.”
Life Patterns participants raised several reasons for wanting to return, or to remain close to, home. They want to maintain important relationships with family and friends in these areas, to be close to parents and relatives when starting a family and to live in the places that are familiar and meaningful to them.
However, many participants have been unable to find a home where they want to live. One young woman said: “It is sobering to know that I won’t probably have the ability to own my own home or be in the environment that I grew up with.”
In our research report, we compared this latest generation of young Australians with the first cohort from the Life Patterns study, Generation X, who we have been tracking since 1991.
We found that, at the age of 29, their residential goals were markedly similar. Both generations prioritised staying in, or returning to, the area they grew up in and where they experience a sense of belonging through social networks.
But while the desires and priorities of these generations are similar, their ability to achieve them differs significantly.
While 80 per cent of Melbourne-based Gen Y participants were living in the same suburb at the ages of 16-17 and 28-29, only 11 per cent of them lived in a house that they owned or paid a mortgage on; 22 per cent rented and 67 per cent lived in their family home.
The home ownership picture was more positive for the Life Patterns Gen X participants when they were aged 26-27. They were almost twice as likely to own their home within 10 kilometres of where they grew up than Gen Y were at the age of 28-29.
The finding that today’s young adults in Melbourne face increasing difficulties entering the property market covers well-trodden ground, but the debate usually focuses on housing proximity to services and amenities.
This overlooks the importance that specific residential areas have in people’s lives and also disregards factors like the increasing numbers of grandparents who provide care for their grandchildren.
What does it mean for our society if the strong support networks provided by family are disrupted by distance?
This is something that must be addressed if we are going to have accurate and meaningful conversations about issues like housing affordability in Australia’s most populous cities, and their social implications.
Too often, public debate focuses on the notion that this generation wants too much and Gen Y has been dogged by claims of entitlement. But their desires are actually often no different from those of previous generations; the difference is in their ability to achieve them.
This article was written by Associate Professor Hernan Cuervo and Dr Julia Cook. The article was published by Pursuit. The Life Patterns study has been supported by a number of grants from the Australian Research Council. It is led by Professor Johanna Wyn and the current project team includes Professor Helen Cahill, Professor Carmen Leccardi, Associate Professor Dan Woodman, Associate Professor Hernán Cuervo, Dr Jenny Chesters, Dr Julia Cook, Josie Reade, Katherine Romei and Shirley Jackson.