Millennials and Other Generational Cycles

by Ron Johnsey on July 9, 2013


Impact on For-Rent Apartment Housing

A great deal of literature about Generation Y – also known as the “Millennials” – has been published in recent years. The obvious reason for the intense interest in this group is that because many of its members have come of age during the dawning of the new century.

This group is also interesting because of its sheer size. With its population of 80 million people, the Millennial population has some clout. The Pew Research Center points out that approximately 30% of the adult population is made up of Millennials.

To that end, Morley Winograd’s and Michael D. Hais’ book Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America is worth examining, especially if you own, manage or build apartments. Even if you aren’t involved with multifamily properties of any kind, Millennial Momentum is an interesting study.

The focus of the book isn’t so much about demographic characteristics of the people born between 1982 and 2003 (though Winograd and Hais do provide good information about the likes and dislikes of this group). Rather, the book focuses on generational cycles. The authors start the book by comparing Millennials with their grandparents, the GI Generation, which is sometimes known as the Greatest Generation; people born between 1901 and 1936.

The authors’ research shows that, much like the GI Generation, Millennials are civic-minded, community oriented and less idealistic than their baby boomer parents, and less self-centered than their Gen-Xer older brothers and sisters. Much like the GIs who fought in World War II (and supported the New Deal), Millennials are pushing for public service and a more transparent government.

The authors point out that these two demographic groups also respond to fear, uncertainty and doubt. The Greatest Generation’s doubts and fears focused on nuclear annihilation and the Cold War. Today, the Millennials are concerned about terrorism and the environment. Both demographic groups underwent economic turmoil – the GI Generation suffered through the Great Depression while its grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

But the one thing that’s interesting about this book is the cover of it. It’s a photograph of many hands hoisting many cell phones, and on those cell phones are examples of Web 2.0, including Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, RSS and so on. The authors spend some time discussing “crowd sourcing,” especially as it pertains to the government. These phones also prove that Millennials are a strongly networked group, thanks to the Web 2.0 tools, cell phones, tablets and laptop computers.

But one aspect of the Greatest Generation/Millennial comparisons we found interesting involved education and housing. Following the Second World War, GIs came home in droves and took advantage of the federal government-funded GI bills to attend college and become better educated. That education, in part, helped shape the civic-minded society that was a hallmark of this generation. This generation’s grandchildren are also highly educated and are attending – and graduating from – college in record numbers.  However, in doing so, the experience is saddling them college tuition debt that averages $25,000 or more.  This is influencing their housing preference as well.

Another difference between the GIs and Generation Y, however, is in housing preferences. When US soldiers returned home, they became beneficiaries of home ownership and suburban living (thanks to government-backed mortgages).

But the Millennials’ viewpoints on home ownership are different. Though organizations such as the National Association of Realtors point to surveys indicating that younger adults are interested in home ownership, the truth of the matter is that most prefer apartment living because of its flexibility. It’s much easier to change jobs and move to a different part of the country if not saddled with a home and mortgage.


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