Generation Y are today’s 22 – 36 year olds, and make up 22% of the Australian population (5.22 million). They also make up the largest cohort in the workforce (34%). Gen Ys are comprised of today’s parents, senior leaders, influencers, and increasingly wealth accumulators. With 1 in 3 being university educated (compared to 1 in 5 Baby Boomers), they have grown up in shifting times and are digital in nature, global in outlook and are living in accelerated demographic times.
It was fantastic to speak on this topic to Tony Delroy from ABC Nightlife last week, about the future of Generation Y and whether we need to stop giving Gen Y a hard time.
Below is an excerpt from the interview:
Eliane, can you compare the wealth of the baby boomers at 25, to Gen Y at the same age – what story do the figures tell?
Well earnings have certainly increased, with average annual full-time annual in 1984 at $19,000 compared to $80,000 today. However houses were also cheaper, with the average price of a residential property costing just $64,000 compared to more than 10 times that across the nation today. In 1975, the median house price was just 5 times the average full-time earnings, but in 1996 this increased to 6 times and today it currently sits at 13 times! Property was cheap, and while it was more difficult to borrow, Baby Boomers were raised with a saving mindset so made the most of their hard work.
There has been a stereotype of Generation Y being demanding in the workplace, not being prepared to put in the hard yards at the bottom of the rung, of not holding loyalty towards employers – to what extent do you think any of those stereotypes ring true?
These stereotypes are the same stereotypes that were made 15 years ago towards Gen X. That somehow the economic mishaps of Gen Y are their own moral failure (lazy, expect too much, spend too much time on social endeavours). Yet there’s a lot of other factors at play and it’s not entirely bad. They’re not locking into a job the same way as their parents (average tenure is 2 years and 8 months for Gen Y compared to 6 years and 8 months for Baby Boomers) but it’s not all bad. Enduring education longer, staying at home longer, the reality of formal education and global connectedness means they’re more equipped and resourced to collaborate in the 21st century, more able to engage in a diverse workforce and lead in collaborative ways.
The fact that Gen Ys value work-life balance is a good thing, they are less likely to get burned out, more relatable to life, not just saving their leave for one day in retirement but bringing life. Older generations bring experience and structured thinking, younger generations bring innovation, 21st century education, and greater cultural diversity to the working world.
Eliane, do you think there are certain expectations that Gen Y grew up with that they’re suddenly wondering if they’re actually going to happen?
Yes certainly. Gen Ys saw the miracle wealth accumulation that their Baby Boomer parents had, and expect to start their economic lives in the same way their parents are ending theirs. Now, there’s a realisation that all of the factors that set up the Baby Boomer generation probably won’t be on-side for Gen Y. They’ve dreamt of having it all – the house, the car, the annual overseas trips, the dining out … but the reality of what they’ve been handed is that one or perhaps more of those things need to go.
How was the economic environment different for young baby boomers compared to young Generation Ys?
Baby Boomers were handed a series of fortunate events. Rather than looking at income in the mid-20s let’s compare the two environments in which they became wealth accumulators.
Firstly, the path begins with their birth (1946-1964), a period of time or remarkable economic development after WW2 (post-war rations, high rate of savings). Beliefs about what the government should provide (health care, education, unemployment, and tax benefits) have reflected the priorities of this generation and the environment that they were raised in.
Then they benefited from the good economic times in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as they were already in the property market. Baby Boomers had a 27 year period of uninterrupted economic boom (from the recession in the early 1990s to 2008) which is likely to be unprecedented and never again seen among Australians of any generation.
Now the tables have turned.
Gen Y didn’t get access to free education, cheap rent while saving or union-protected and secure jobs. Young people today have little prospect of owning a home, so consumer spending improves their quality of life. Baby Boomers have a larger share of the pie while Gen Y, nor any other generation following the Baby Boomers for that matter, will reach a similar landmark. They benefited from advantageous tax systems and modest taxes. Their generation thrived in a unique, economic miracle.
But it’s not all bad news for Gen Y.
Australia is one of the few wealthy countries which has seen disposable income growth be higher for those aged 25-29 than those aged 65-69, with 27% growth compared with 14% growth between 1985 and 2010.
When it comes to homeownership amongst Gen Y, how do they compare to the generations before them at a similar age?
In 1981, 61% of those aged 25-34 owned their own home and in 2011, this figure had dropped to 47% of those in the same age bracket. Across the board (not just in the younger years) we’ve seen a decline in home ownership. 20 years ago, 42% of Australians owned their home outright, which has decreased to less than 30% today. Furthermore, just 26% were renting, which has grown to almost a third today (31%).
So why this decline? This can be attributed to the emergence of single-person and single-parent households, the growing gap between house prices and average weekly earnings and tax concessions to owner occupiers. With government policies being geared towards home ownership, this means that Gen Ys who start their earning lives later risk spending more of their income on housing costs when they retire.
Let’s set the crystal ball 50 years into the future – Eliane what do you see for Gen Y in 2066?
Demographically, Australia’s population will certainly have grown – Australia will have over 40 million people, Sydney over 8.4 million and Melbourne 8.5 million, having overtaken Sydney as Australia’s largest city by 2056. Migration will continue to drive growth, and with increasing cultural diversity and greater influence from Asia, the population growth will continue to drive house prices upwards.
Australia’s population will also be ageing. 58% of the population will be in their 50s or older in 2066, one quarter will be over 65 and 1 in 6 will be over 75. In a nutshell, there will be more people aged over 60 than under 20.
And lastly, we will have changed a lot in that time as well. In 2066 Gen Ys will be aged 72 to 86, and Gen Z’s (those now aged 7-21), of whom there are already 4.43 million in Australia (comprising 18% of the population), will be nearing their retirement years (57 to 71). So by 2066 we’ll have seen 3 more generations emerge after Gen Alpha and we can be sure that these individuals will be shaped in completely different times.