Why aren't young people buying cars and houses? Is it just the terrible economy, or are we seeing the beginning of a more fundamental shift toward public transit, car-sharing, and denser living, with longer-lasting consequences for businesses and families? That's the question Jordan Weissmann and I asked in our business column in this month's magazine.
Read the column here. Join the debate here: "Why Aren't Twentysomethings Buying Cars or Houses?" Read our most angry and articulate critics here. Read our most assenting commenters extoll "the freedom of not owning" here. And here are the best anecdotes and reflections across our hundreds of comments. The responses are all between lower-20s and mid-30s, skew upper-middle-class and coastal, but we do have some good reminders that in more sprawled urban layouts (especially throughout the South) having a car is practically a pre-req for getting to work.
'So many questions, so many uncertainties in this economy'
'Cities are what I need right now'
I am 31. Officially this makes me the tail end of Gen X. In reality, I feel more like a purgatory between Gen X and the Millennials.
There are some economic and recession reasons why I have not bought a house but the main reasons are largely personal.
I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States and enjoy living in the city. My rent is expensive but in my area a mortgage would probably have similar monthly costs. I would also need to move out of the city in order to buy a condo or house and as single person this would be highly inconvenient and boring.
Cities are what I need right now. It is easy for me to get to work on public transportation (20 to 40 minutes depending on traffic.) My apartment is very centrally located and close to supermarkets, bars, restaurants, movie theatres, concert venues, etc. I can easily walk to a lot of places. Also since I don't have a family, I don't need much space. Buying a house would be excessive and take a lot of time to clean.
I do own a car but it is mainly for traveling outside of the city.
On the Ford stuff, I would say that is partially right. I know a lot of people around my age who like and own cars but I rarely hear them fantasize about cars like older guys. Tech being more important as a status symbol is probably right and because I live in a cool city, fixed gear bikes are a status symbol. Being able to take weekend trips is a status symbol. Flex time or being able to work from home is a status symbol (though I like going to an office).
That being said, I have plenty of friends who are my age and proud suburban homeowners and parents. However, most of these people went straight to work after undergrad. I decided to attend law school lateish and graduated at 30. So my friends have about 5-10 years of work experience over me.Another group of friends is still very nomadic and not sure where they will end up. Many in this cohort are artists and/or academics. Why buy a house if you need to move for a post-doc or fellowship? -- Dale Ratner
'We do not own a home or a car ... We use Zipcar and rent'
'Not being a homeowner has boded me well'
I'm 30 & graduated from grad school in 2006. Thanks to that good timing I was able to get a loan for a "new" car (in quotes because it was a certified pre-own) & as of this year, that loan is paid off #yay. I live in the Midwest, but in an area that wasn't as hard hit by the recession as others. I'd love to buy a house but I still think prices are ridiculous - $250K for a 2bedroom townhouse? I think not! Sure I could buy something in a cheaper neighborhood, a single family home vs a townhouse, but rather than make those sacrifices SOLELY so that I can be a homeowner, I'll just continue to rent & look.
So far, NOT being a homeowner has boded me well in this economy. I was able to make a cross-country move in 2010 because I was mobile. I have friends in my old area who are job-hunting & not finding many opportunities, but aren't able to be mobile because they are saddled with mortgages & homes/condos they probably won't be able to sell without taking a loss. -- Jubi The Great
THE GENDER DIVIDE IN GENERATION CHEAP
STUDENT DEBT + AGEISM = HIGH COST OF OWNING
'There is a *want* for creature comforts ... a house and two cars'
'In a small Southern city ... every household has at least one car'
I'm 34, and I live in a small Southern city. Every 20-30something household that I know has at least one car--it may be a beater, but they have one. We have unreliable public transportation here and the city is spread-out, so not consistently bike- or pedestrian-friendly. If you don't have a car, you're going to have a very hard time holding down a job. Homeownership also seems more common among younger people here. It's still possible to buy a house at a not-insane price, especially if you buy out in the county or are willing to take on a house in less than great shape. Folks--even college-educated, white-collar folks-- tend to get married and have kids earlier here, and that definitely contributes to the higher homeownership rates as well. (I knew very few women who weren't married by 26, including myself.)--
'I haven't lived in one place for more than 4 years'
'I hate paperwork, like being mobile, don't like working on my property, hate having too much stuff'
'I would be terrified to take on the burden of a car or mortgage'
'A cultural shift ... Why buy a house when you can rent, travel, etc?'
'Purchasing our dream house ... would be signing my soul to the devil'
I'm 33 years old, married, with one daughter. I have a bachelor's and masters degrees from Ivy League universities. My family lives in a small rented thee bedroom apartment in a tall urban skyscraper. We are a single income family, an exception among our friends. In many ways my family's dreams seems like a relic of the past. My wife and I dream about living in a house with a front and back yard in a safe and friendly neighborhood where our daughter can run around and ride her bike.
Right now my income is $180k per year, which is not the highest but probably better than most of my friends. My family is fortunate to have some help from our respective families. We save between a half and two thirds of this income. I can easily purchase our dream house if I were open to taking a mortgage.
I am completely convinced, however, that doing so would be signing my soul to the devil, although that's not entirely fair to the devil since he probably wouldn't be able to wreak as much damage as they have if he tried. Somehow these institutions have convinced everyone that debt is a shortcut to an easy life that one cannot afford. Whereas the obvious truth is that debt merely inflates one's expenses over time by adding interest into the mix. But even that wasn't enough. What happened during the past several years has proven to me that in their inexorable drive for profits, banks are no longer looking for clients or customers, they are looking for suckers. I have my own pet theory of how these institutions have hijacked our democratic systems and perverted them to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else, but I'll spare you that tirade. My convictions have simply translated themselves into a simple answer to the question the Atlantic is posing to its readers. I will buy a home one day, I'll just do it the old fashioned way: save up and buy it in cash. This might seem difficult, but in the longer term its better than spending multiples more paying interest. And I also save myself the risk of being another sucker to the skewed system. I realize I'm fortunate to have this option available to me; as salaries have declined during the past several decades, most people can't do this even if they wanted to. -- Jaded with the System
'The apparent increasing transience of everything'
'Owning a house is a pain in the *** unless you're loaded'