# Which Generation Has Had It the Toughest?

Recently, I ran across a good bit of complaining about which generation has had it the toughest.  I have seen TikTok videos from self-proclaimed Gen Zers claiming how much worse they have it than Gen Xers and Millennials.  Matt Walsh regularly has clips from Gen Z TikTokkers complaining about how hard they have it.  Walsh opines generally that Gen Zers have not had it tougher than most other generations; he claims that the Boomers had everything handed to them in terms of getting started and blew it.  This is really a matter of data and facts.  So rather than join the whining, why not look into this?

It turns out that the “oldest” Gen Zers, born in 1997, turned 25 in 2022 — an age where many young people are just thinking about buying their first house.  To compare their situation to others in this blame game, I looked at the oldest Boomers, born in 1946, who turned 25 in 1971; the oldest Gen Xers, who were born in 1965 and turned 25 in 1990; and the oldest Millennials, who were born in 1981 and turned 25 in 2006.  This figure nicely displays the generations.

It turns out that median home price and 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates are available for each July back to 1971.  July seemed a reasonable month to pick, as the home-buying season is the summer months, when people with children can move without disrupting school.  Anyone can plug the median home price and the mortgage interest rate into a calculator to calculate the average monthly payment on the median house, ignoring taxes and insurance.

Now, at first blush, the median home price in 1971, \$26,311.92, and monthly payment, \$187.41, in the table below makes it seem as though the Boomers did have it made.  But of course, incomes were lower back in the day.  Median household income in 1971 was \$10,920.00, or \$857.50 per month, making that \$187.41 monthly payment look less attractive.  Dividing 1971 or 2022 median home payments by 1971 or 2022 median income, respectively, means we don’t have to worry about adjusting for inflation, and using household numbers means the numbers are adjusted for any changing average size of households in the U.S.  All of these numbers and the numbers for the other generations are in Table 1 below.

Table 1

 Generation and Year Median Home Price* Mortgage Interest Rate* Monthly Payment Median Monthly Household Income Median Home Payment as a % of Income Oldest Boomers 1971 (1946+25) \$26,311.92 7.69% \$187.41 \$857.50 22% Oldest Gen Xers 1990 (1965+25) \$98,329.40 9.98% \$861.46 \$2,945.83* 29% Oldest Millennials 2006 (1981+25) \$215,974.96 6.72% \$1,396.51 \$4,867.50 29% 2022 (1997+25) \$383,086.20 5.30% \$2,127.30 \$7,729.17 28%

*July monthly figures.

Clearly, the oldest member of each generation faced spending something in the 20s, percentage-wise, of their median income for a median house.  Our oldest Gen Zers had it a little better than the oldest Gen Xers and Millennials.  And maybe Matt Walsh has a point, as the oldest Boomers had it slightly or maybe more than slightly better than the other generations.

There are other necessities that figure into the ability to buy a house.  There is information available for food at home, clothing, and number of households in the U.S. that can similarly be used to get the percentage expenditure of each generation on food at home and clothing and then the total of oldest member of each generation on the median house, food at home, and clothing when starting out at age 25.

Table 2

 Generation and Year Median Annual Household Income Food at Home as a % of Income Clothing as a % of Income Median Home Payment as a % of Income Expenditure on Food at Home, Clothing and a Median Home as a % of Income Oldest Boomers 1971 (1946+25) \$10,290.00 12% 8% 22% 42.3% Oldest Gen Xers 1990 (1965+25) \$35,350.00 10% 6% 29% 45.2% Oldest Millennials 2006 (1981+25) \$58,410.00 8% 5% 29% 42.0% Oldest Gen Zers 2022 (1997+25) \$92,750.00 9% 4% 28% 40.4%

While the Boomers had it a bit easier when it comes to paying for that first house, that was balanced out by food at home and clothing being more expensive.  We see in Table 2 that each generation would have had to spend from the low to mid 40s as a percentage of income on buying a median house, food at home, and clothing.

Perhaps these particular years are different from others.  Boomers who did not buy a house in the early 1970s were facing double-digit mortgage rates by the late 1970s.  A house today is in some ways better — air-conditioning, smoke alarms etc. — compared to a house in 1971.  Perhaps some measure of gasoline and transportation costs would show something different.  Still, it is doubtful that these numbers would change all that much, if every year from 1971 to today is examined, but that was not done.  It is the oldest of the Gen Zers who have gone to TikTok to raise this complaint, so the comparison to the oldest of the other generations turning 25 is apt.  And of course, if you just must live in Manhattan, D.C., or now parts of Brooklyn, that is going to be even tougher starting out.  But it always has been, and that is why suburbs exist.

So, overall, Matt Walsh is right in one way.  It is tough to start out, really, in any generation.  But he is wrong in that the Boomers were not especially different.  It is also probably true that life has become a little easier for every generation since the Industrial Revolution.  So there is no reason for whining among the generations, and it doesn’t do any good anyway.  It is tough on Gen Zers starting out, and any of us can be sympathetic to them; we were there not long ago.  Getting that first house puts a strain on your budget, no matter your generation.

James L. Swofford is a professor of economics in the Department of Economics, Finance, and Real Estate at the University of South Alabama.

Clock image via Pexels.

* Corrected from a previous edition.

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