Ryan O'Rourke: The costly joke of 'when my parents were my age'

Across the board, it seems those nearing 30 are hitting life milestones at a much slower rate than their parents
Ryan O'Rourke: The costly joke of 'when my parents were my age'

Even before the pandemic took hold, disrupting the incomes of many young people, a large proportion of those under 30 lived with their parents.

As my generation nears the 30 mark, it is not uncommon for us to contemplate the pace at which our lives are moving, especially when we compare it to those who have walked the path before us.

“When my parents were my age” has become a solid opening line of a joke for those born in the 90s, the punchline often a depressing take on what has now become the norm.

A reinforced idolisation of “rise and grind” mentality keeps us marching forward. 

While some work multiple jobs, others learn to monetise hobbies as a means of “side hustle” or extra income.

And more so than ever, young people are throwing themselves into education in the hope that a masters or PhD will bring them to the greener fields on which they can build a life.

But across the board, it seems to be that we are hitting our life milestones at a much slower rate than our parents.

We are getting married later, high car insurance rates are keeping us off the roads, and an aggressive housing market is keeping us living in our parents' spare rooms, or renting at increasingly high costs.

A report published by the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland shows that the number of first-time buyers aged 30 or under has more than halved in the last 16 years, falling from 60% in 2004 to 27% in 2020.

This is no surprise when, according to the CSO, property prices nationally have increased by 88.5% from early 2013.

Even before the pandemic took hold, disrupting the incomes of many young people, a large proportion of those under 30 lived with their parents.

Figures from Eurostat showed that 78% of those aged 16 to 29 in Ireland were still living at home with their parents in 2018, compared to the EU-28 average of 67%.

In 2013, according to statistics from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), the average rent was €620. In comparison, the average monthly rent in Ireland at the end of 2020 was €1,414.

According to a recent RTB rental sector survey, when asked why people surveyed were renting, 20% said it was because they can’t get a mortgage, while 15% were renting while they saved the deposit for a house.

The Central Bank’s rules which limit lending to 3.5 times household income means that even those who have saved enough for a mortgage deposit may struggle to get a loan.

This is compounded by rising rents — and the fact that wages have not been rising at the same level, making it difficult to save.

According to data from the CSO, the average rental income for landlords increased by 16% over a period of two years (between 2017 and 2019), while the minimum wage has seen an increase of less than 18% since 2011, from €8.65 to €10.20 per hour (2021). 

Housing is not the only milestone young people are missing out on — or at least putting off.

Even before Covid was grinding wedding plans to a halt, couples were putting off marriage. Data from the CSO shows that in 2018 the average age of grooms and brides was 36.4 years and 34.4 years, both an all-time record high.

Fewer people are having children too. According to the CSO, there were 55,959 births registered in 2020, 25.4% fewer than in 2010 when 74,976 births were registered.

Mothers under the age of 30 accounted for 26.2% of all births in 2019 compared to 2009, when they accounted for 38.8% of births.

Even getting a car on the road, seen as a rite of passage, is no longer assured. The cost of insurance, anecdotally put at between €2,000 and €3,000 for people in their late teens and early 20s serves as a deterrent to many.

But if even if young people were given the opportunity to get a loan for a house — would they all take it?

While the security offered by a mortgage far outweighs that of rental accommodation, it is easy to see why the current generation approaching their 30s may not see it in the same light as their parents did, when they were the same age.

In research from Aviva Life & Pensions Ireland, released last month, 27% of those surveyed are of the belief that they will still be paying off their mortgage or paying rent in retirement.

This feeling was highest amongst those aged between 35 and 44 at 36.5%.

However, 21.5% of those surveyed aged 55 and over also expect to be paying off their mortgage or continuing to pay rent in retirement.

So now we have a generation of young people, many of whom would have seen the repossessions that came with the fall of the Celtic Tiger, watching their parents work to pay off loans into retirement.

Is it any surprise that they are not rushing to navigate the same path as those before them, especially when all information they have indicates that things are going to get worse before they get better?

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