The Great Australian Nightmare or simply dreaming?

March 5, 2015

Cultural Mapping: Home & Living

The Great Australian Nightmare? Or Are Gen Y and Z Simply Dreaming About Something Else…

There has been increased focus and debate about housing affordability in Australia, in particular, the (in)ability for first home buyers to enter the market. With much of Australia’s residential property held in Baby Boomer’s hands – often purchased at significantly lower prices than Today pound for pound and further supported by a tax policy that actively encourages them to use their home as leverage to buy even more properties, and reap the tax reward – the market is clearly skewed towards a Baby Boomer landlord class and a Gen Y and Z tenant class, at least for the foreseeable future.  

In response, and some may say to be expected, the Federal Government decided to lay the blame on foreigners – foreign investors more specifically – yesterday announcing proposed greater restrictions, greater reporting, and imposing fees for foreign investors. Although there is no doubt that the number of foreign investors in the Australian residential property market has increased significantly, they appear far from the main culprit for Australia’s high cost of housing. Still don’t let good policy get in the way of a good story to the electorate!

Rant over! 

This article is not about deconstructing the minutiae of policy and politics to find the answer to housing affordability, but rather to challenge the premise that this is indeed a crisis (as all good political issues MUST be these days), and put a counter point that maybe the idea of home ownership as the great Australian dream is starting to diminish. Put simply, are Gen Y and Z dreaming of something other than the Great Australian Dream, and if so what and why?

Clearly, much of this movement away from home ownership is driven by affordability – if a home in Toorak, Double Bay or Cottesloe was loose change, I’m sure many, including myself, would jump at the chance to buy in. However notwithstanding house prices, I do wonder whether many would still actively choose to invest their money and time elsewhere.

Image source:

So what could be driving the active choice amongst Gen Y and Z not to buy a home?

• More mobile – Gen Y and Z travel more than any other generation and are far more comfortable moving cities and even countries for new opportunities and experiences. In this context, purchasing a home becomes somewhat redundant, and an anchor on their freedom, at least in the short to medium term as they have their sights set on distant shores.  

• The rise of the SINK/DINK – Australians are having fewer children, with many choosing not to have children at all. Although this alone does not determine people's aspirations for home ownership, the lack of need for certainty re: child care, schooling etc. means that SINKS/DINKS have greater flexibility and freedom of housing options, and arguably as a result more open to renting than families with children

• Living in the mix – In the last two decades there has been a re-emergence and revitalisation of the inner city in almost all major capitals cities of Australia. Once shunned, considered dangerous, dirty and the domain of migrant and lower socio-economic groups, people have re-embraced the character and amenity of the inner city, rejecting the model of continuous expansion of ‘communities’ in the far flung fringes of our cities. This has seen significant new development, redevelopment and refurbishment of inner city property as demand has increased; however for many the prices of these properties are outside their reach. Therefore a trade-off has been made by many between owning their home and living where they want to live. 

• Property Savvy – Finally, the constant narrative of property as a wise investment has not been lost on Gen Y and Z – it’s just that for many in this group, they don’t always link owning property to owning their home. Many have decided to get a foothold in the property market, purchasing a more affordable property with either a view to selling off and trading up when they want to buy a home, or simply using this as an investment that can be leveraged like any other. This has resulted in a rise in the purchase of inner city apartments, vacant land and country properties by first time investors as well as an increase in the number of investment properties purchased in partnership with family and friends.

So what does this mean for the ‘great aspiration’ of home ownership – judging by what Gen Y and Z claim to be the most important aspects of their lives, perhaps the ‘great aspiration’ for many now is travel, entertainment, engagement, - getting out there and enjoying the challenge, diversity, dynamism of the world around them, rather than the comfort, security and certainty of home ownership.

Image source: Siggi Schausberger

Perhaps this speaks to a bigger shift in our culture, and a growing tension in our lives – as the world becomes more uncertain and dynamic, we can choose to cocoon, or choose to embrace the uncertainty – as Tyler Durden put it so succinctly in Fight Club - ‘Just Let Go!’.

This has profound implications for Organisations and Brands of all persuasions – risk and fear may no longer have the currency it once had, with our greatest fear now being FOMO! Hope, reward, excitement etc. may be starting to rule the day – despite what may be coming out of Canberra. Encouraging times for the collective mindset of Australians, and great opportunities for brands that can tap into this mindset.