Young adults not only struggle to buy a home, many struggle to secure any kind of independent housing. This contributes to a cycle of living in precarious and informal housing and to a growing gap between their current situation and their short and longer-term housing aspirations.
A report released today by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) adds nuance to debates about generational change and housing by examining how housing aspirations differ among emerging adults (18-24 years) and in early adulthood (25-34 years). For example, emerging adults are more likely than the older cohort to prefer living in an apartment.
By early adulthood, the housing aspirations gap is greatest for individuals in the private rental sector, particularly those on higher incomes, and narrowest for home owners. Home buyers on low to moderate incomes are most happy with their housing.
While long-held values around the ideal of home ownership prevail, these are not as persistent as for past generations. The ideal differs according to age, education and the quality and security of current living arrangements. But having somewhere safe and secure to call home was the top priority across all young adults.
Aspirations change with stage of life
An extended phase of dependence to semi-dependence shapes the housing aspirations of young adults. This involves either remaining in the family home or sharing with others.
In 2015-16, the ABS Survey of Income and Housing revealed that only one in six (17%) young adults (18-24 years) lived independently. Two-thirds (66%) lived with parents. Around a third of young adults (25-34 years) are also opting to remain or move back with parents or live in shared housing.
While these living arrangements reflect concerns about housing affordability, they are also used as a strategy to pursue other aspirations, such as education.
What do young adults want in their housing?
The AHURI research includes a nationally representative survey of more than 2,400 Australians aged 18-34 years. It was supported by focus groups and in-depth interviews, including with Indigenous Australians, in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
Home ownership was the ideal tenure for 60% of emerging adults (18-24). By early adulthood (25-34) the proportion had climbed to 70%. The ideal of home ownership was lower (61%) for those still living in the family home by early adulthood compared with higher-income couples living independently (80%).
By early adulthood, educational status becomes a key marker of whether home ownership is considered possible. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of households with a tertiary-educated member believed they could buy a house within five years. This compares with just over a third of those with an education to year 12 (36%) and less than a quarter (23%) of those with an education to year 11 or below.
The preference for apartment living falls with age. About a third (34%) of emerging adults reported this as their ideal, compared with 21% of early adults.
Young adults also want more space. The largest share of both emerging (32%) and early adults (43%) indicated that a four-bedroom house is ideal. This compares to just 20% of those over 55 years of age who wanted four or more bedrooms.
How large is the housing aspirations gap?
For emerging adults (18-24), living in a group household typically met short-term (82%) but not longer-term (25%) aspirations. Similarly, living with parents mostly met short-term (76%) but not longer-term (30%) aspirations.
Authors: Sharon Parkinson, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology