Are pensioners locking young people out of the housing market?

11 July 2013

Today the Daily Mail announced "the death of home ownership".

Reporting the results of the English Housing Survey, it noted that one in three houses are now owned by pensioners. And, related to this, we learned that the proportion of people renting is at its highest level since 1987.

The housing market is a place where the wealth gap between generations is most obviously on show. The Survey, which is based on a sample of almost 14,000 households, indeed shows that out of England's 14.4 million owner occupiers, 4.3 million (30%) are over the age of 65.

To a certain extent, we can expect this - older people have saved up money over the course of their lives and are in a better position to have paid off, or be in the process of paying off, a mortgage. In addition, as our population ages we'd expect pensioners to constitute a larger proportion of home owners. 

However, if we look exclusively at this particular age group, official figures show that their property wealth has increased over the past 30 years. In 1981 half of those aged 65-74 were owner occupiers; now more than three quarters of them are. This is the baby boomer generation coming home to roost. And during the same period of time, the percentage of 16-24 year olds owning their own home has dropped from 32% to 10%.

Generation Rent?

The Daily Mail suggests that higher property prices mean the younger generation now can't afford to buy their own home.

The Survey shows that only 10% of owner occupiers are aged under 35. Unsurprisingly, this same age group accounts for half of all private renters.

One of the reasons for higher house prices is the fact that demand is outstripping supply. This is not the fault of the nation's pensioners. That is, unless we're eyeing the ones who hold political office, since we're now - not including the period of the Second World War - building fewer homes than we were in the early 1920s.

The recession is also likely to have had an impact on levels of home ownership. In 2003, during the era of 'easy credit', 71% of homes were owner-occupied; today that figure has dropped to 65%. Not only has there been a slump in the construction of new homes since 2008, but as banks tightened their lending criteria, it became tricky for first-time buyers to secure a mortgage. 

As a result, the proportion of people renting is now at its highest level since 1987. For young people aged under 35, who represent 50% of private renters, the rental market has recently favoured landlords, with rents in the private sector on the increase since the credit crunch of 2008.

In the social sector, where rents are lower (by an average of £81 per week in 2011/12), under 35s account for only 19% of those renting. By contrast, those aged 65 plus are the largest group with housing association or local authority tenancy.

Intergenerational inequality?

The Survey does suggest that home ownership is concentrated in the hands of those aged over 65, who - more than any other age group - are likely to have a property in their name. It also tells us that the over 65s are more likely to benefit from the reduced rents in the social housing sector.

The Daily Mail's article concentrates on the wealth of these baby boomers. But official statistics also show that, regardless of their parents' or grandparents' good fortune, historically low levels of housebuilding and the credit crisis are likely to have had a significant impact on a young person's chance to buy their own home.  

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