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Extending childhood

“The “rise of the four-car family”, as some media outlets are referring to it, exposes the hollowness of young adults’ claims that they can’t afford to move out. For here we have adults who clearly have pretty decent levels of disposable income – cars, after all, are quite expensive to buy and maintain – yet who insist on staying in the rooms they grew up in. So I don’t buy the newspaper claims that the rise of the four-car family is yet more evidence that Britain’s “cash-strapped youngsters cant’ afford to fly the nest”; it isn’t hardship that keeps loads of young adults at home, but cowardice, an unwillingness to do what just about every generation before them did: take a risk, leave home, suffer deprivations, live off Pot Noodles, and in the process gain something that money could never buy – a feeling of genuine moral autonomy.”

- Brendan O’ Neill

He’s got a strong point here (says yours truly who left home to live in student digs at the age of 18 and has never lived with his folks since apart from a period of one month during some professional training course I was on. In fact, when I stay with Dad for more than a few days I get cabin fever, love my father though I do).

I could not wait to leave home not because of any dislike of my parents, but because I just wanted my freedom even if that meant having to go without a few things. For some time I rented, and lived sometimes in shared accommodation with others that wasn’t always ideal, but it did mean that when it came to choosing to buy a house, my now-wife and I had a decent lump of capital saved up. I could have done this sooner in a  less affluent part of London had I really wanted to do so, but the property market wasn’t right and renting made more sense. Getting a mortgage wasn’t the big deal for me that it seemed to be for a lot of my peers.

This may be a part of a process whereby people are putting off becoming “grown up” until later in their 20 and even 30s than used to be case. There are many drivers of this; official policy, after all, wants at least 50 per cent of school-leavers to go into higher education, when, arguably, that is too high and more should be getting into vocational training and work a bit sooner, and avoiding the drag of student debt. But O’Neill ought to also realise that affordable rental properties in places such as London, where much of the work is, is scarce, and much of the reason for that are our planning laws. It is a lot easier to boot out these adults from the nest when there is a realistic place for them to go.

In general, though, I think O’Neill is on the money and right to be scornful, although generalisations can be unfair on people who stay with their folks for entirely rational reasons (including looking after parents who might be infirm, etc). Quite what the longer-term impact on our society, even our politics, will be from a generation that did not fly the coop until its 30s is anyone’s guess. In the light of what Brian Micklethwait had to say recently about the ideas of Emmanuel Todd, it might be worth exploring the idea in more detail.

40 comments to Extending childhood

  • George

    maybe the fact that the population has grown by about 300k a year for the last ten years might have made accommodation harder to find and more expensive?

    the blog post reads like typical power structure propaganda

    don’t worry that people who want their own home are now in competition with buy to let landlords able to rent properties to multiple wage earning adults just criticize the young

    yet again a “libertarian” blog bangs the drum for the robber class

  • I’m sorry Tom, I think O’Neill is talking utter bollocks not dissimilar to retired colonels of previous generations complaining about young people’s lack of “moral fibre”.

    On your bit about the economics: planning and higher education (brought about, in part, I suspect by labour laws) I am in total agreement. Young people want to get out. They don’t because they can’t.

  • PeterT

    Well at least they have something else to worry about besides society becoming ever more ‘atomised’.

  • There is only *one* reason large numbers of people cannot afford homes of their own.

    Just one.

    Planning laws.

    That’s it.

    Abolish those and the problem goes away. Fast.

    Without the state preventing it, Kent would have been completely paved over from Croydon to Dover during the previous decade and would by now be covered with a million or more more houses than currently exist just in that direction, with the consequent huge reduction in the price of middle to low end housing.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Hmm. I made the point about planning but it is worth noting, as O’Neill said, that the people he talks about are quite well-off (they have cars, etc). So there is an element of choice, not just brute necessity, Patrick.

    And these things, if they stem from choices, have consequences.

  • maybe the fact that the population has grown by about 300k a year for the last ten years might have made accommodation harder to find and more expensive?

    the blog post reads like typical power structure propaganda

    300,000 a year is nothing if the market is allowed to actually function. It is the ‘Town and Country Planning’ managerial establishment who prevents the construction of new homes to meet demand. It would be perfectly fair to say the state planning establishment prefer rape to prosperity, as they are why Kent’s rapeseed fields have not long ago been paved over and covered with new housing for cater to low to middle income would-be home owners.

    But the statist establishment hate the idea of private property owners actually controlling their land and its uses rather than kowtowing to state edicts on how ‘their’ land must be used. The supply of housing is kept artificially low by state interference in land use.

  • George

    planning laws are a red herring

    they are designed to enrich the feudal land owners.

    it is the feudal pattern of land ownership that is the root of the problem

  • When it comes to cars, two points. First, a lot of people will need cars to get to work. Second, cars (especially second-hand ones) are not that expensive to buy. Third, (and this is speculation) I wonder if there is an element of “Well, I will never be able to afford a house but I can afford a car.”

  • News Flash: feudalism ended in England 500 years ago.

  • George

    “News Flash: feudalism ended in England 500 years ago.”

    70% of the land is owned by 0.3% of the population, sounds pretty feudal to me.

  • As George does not explain why “planning laws are a red herring” (ie why increasing the supply of land available for residential construction by scrapping state planning laws would not reduce the price of housing), he is not worth debating.

  • George

    “I wonder if there is an element of “Well, I will never be able to afford a house but I can afford a car.”

    you can get a new car for about £150 a month on finance.

    A flat to rent or buy anywhere near work is probably starting at around £800 a month that’s before council tax and bills etc so probably more like 1k a month

  • George

    Perry I agree that state planning laws keep house prices high.

    You think this is because of lefty statist philosophy.

    I say it is because it maximises the wealth of the landowning classes.

  • Here is the Wikipedia page on feudalism. Readers can make up their own minds on whose definition is correct.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Patrick, I think that even with the tight housing/rental market – and you noted that I concede the point and picked up on O’Neill about it – it does seem that a lot of people who are quite well off, but hardly rolling in it, just cannot be arsed to move into cheap, rental accomodation in their early 20s. I lived in some pretty dire places for a while in places such as Ipswich and for a while in London. And I could have made the switch and lived with Mum and Dad and bought a big car. But I didn’t.

    Is it really the case that O’Neill is being like some old fart going on about the weak yoof of today? Well, maybe so. But it surely ought to be a concern if, for reasons not entirely economic, a significantly larger share of young adults, even on the edge of being middle aged, live with the folks. I guess some of the impact of this will be minimal, but for example, there are issues like a sense of “having one’s own space”, of privacy. I remember my pleasure at having my own small flat for the first time so I could have friends around and bring round my then-girlfriend without having to worry about being put through some interrogation about it later. This stuff does affect how you interact with the world and your approach towards it. He may come across as a bit of a tosser, but I think O’Neill raises a valid point.

    George is a Georgist, one of those strange breed of faux libertarians who claim that there is a conspiracy of private owners of land to not sell it to people at the price the latter demand. Quite how this theory carries any weight is beyond me. Scrap the planning laws, deregulate the market properly and remove the distortion of cheap, fiat currency, and the demand for residential accomodation would be met quickly.

  • Perry I agree that state planning laws keep house prices high.

    I am pleased to hear it.

    You think this is because of lefty statist philosophy. I say it is because it maximises the wealth of the landowning classes.

    No, you will notice a complete lack of the term ‘lefty’ in my remarks. I am not a conservative, so I regard ‘lefty’ statism and ‘righty’ statism as largely interchangeable. It is the managerialist statist system that is the cause of this problem and it matters very little to me which group of statist thugs currently has their hand on the tiller. That is to say, the planning laws preventing Kent being paved over do not need to be adjusted to favour the worthy proletarian Flat Caps rather than the evil cigar smoking Fox Hunters, they need to be completely abolished.

    The planning laws used to massively distort the market have persisted regardless of which party has residence of 10 Downing Street. The state needs to not be in the ‘land use’ business at all.

  • George

    “George is a Georgist, one of those strange breed of faux libertarians.”

    I’ve never claimed to be a libertarian.

  • George is a Georgist

    That cannot be true JP as George is opposed to feudalism and the Georgists are nothing if not neo-feudalists ;-)

  • Watchman

    If anyone is feudal in all of this, it is the state agencies, who have to be paid to allow you to develop the land you own. After all, most people in feudal England effectively owned their land – they could dispose of it to their selected heirs, passing on the obligations as well as the land – feudal landlords owned the rent rather than the land if you like. In effect, the state has here supplanted the baron (Marx would be ecstatic, until he realised the proletariat were not represented by the state), and therefore the baron and his allies have to take control of the state apparatus to maintain their position.

    So I suppose George is tangentially correct, but feudalism is hardly the issue. The fact that the state constrains ownership is the issue – free disposal of land is still not possible, for all that it is more so now than for the medieval peasant.

  • bloke in spain

    Do find it’s strange, so many people forgetting what it’s like to be in one’s twenties.
    Why did we want a place of one’s own? Independence. So we weren’t beholden to our parents what we did in our own lives.
    If we were still living at home, why did we want a car? Independence. So we weren’t beholden to our a parents every time we needed transport.
    When did we want these things? Wait until our 30s? Next year? No, now. Because we were living our lives as they happened, not some time in the indefinite future.
    So it’s quite understandable, people in their 20s will go for any bit of independence they can grab.

    I’d disagree with George about “the landowning classes”. The landowning classes have never bothered overly about the price of land. Or who else gets their hands on some, as long as they get to keep theirs. The latter being the important element. Enjoying the use of their land.
    The curse is the land investing classes. Those who buy property with the expectation the value will appreciate. Which unfortunately is the category so many homeowners seem to have slipped into. To be more interested in the investment value of their homes – its value to others -than its utility value to themselves. They’r the ones with an interest in keeping housing prices high by restricting supply.
    And you can’t just blame the planning system without acknowledging what the planning system is responding to. Their pressure to restrict building to maintain house prices.

  • George

    fantastic analysis bloke in spain, far better than mine

  • And you can’t just blame the planning system without acknowledging what the planning system is responding to. Their pressure to restrict building to maintain house prices.

    I know exactly what it is responding to: existing land owner investors and state managerialists in equal measure… which is why I want the state out of the land-use-approval business. The essential thing is to protect private ownership from the state demanding it gets to decide what gets done with it either via a permission system or some sort of neo-feudal rent tax like the one Georgists argue for (Georgists do not mind the idea of the state distorting markets as long as it is distorted in the manner they desire).

  • Mr Ed

    There is only *one* reason large numbers of people cannot afford homes of their own.

    Just one

    There is another factor than planning laws, the existence of the Bank of England pumping money out into the financial system and creating a bubble in house prices. The brakes on supply from planning laws are compounded by the throttle of ‘demand’ being increased by cheap loans. The result, a donut.

  • Current

    I agree with O’Neill, though for different reasons. I currently live in a shared house with one other person, we’re both over 30 and it’s a nice house and very civilised. The price of a room there when adjusted for inflation is about the same as what I paid at university for a room in a cold terraced house with 70s furniture and fittings. Rental rates have gone up in big cities but they haven’t gone up that far everywhere.

    I think O’Neill is being romantic about the urge to move out. I think in the past the motivation was to have more contact with friends and especially those of the opposite sex. Now though, moral strictures aren’t what they were, the parents of the twenty-somethings O’Neill is talking about grew up in the 80s and 90s. They’re likely to be much less critical about girlfriends and boyfriends than those of 20 years ago were. The other big change is the internet and mobile communication. For a start you can play games and some become entirely absorbed in that. Today you can carry on friendships (though not of-course sexual ones) with people entirely over the internet. Meetings and events can easily be organized. I know quite a few 20-something year olds that live with their parents, they meet their friends in neutral places like pubs and coffee shops, organized by mobile phone.

  • Bubble bubble

    Not just the BoE; unconstrained credit creation is blowing property bubbles in just about every “advanced” economy. Banks are not reserve constrained, deposit constrained, or even capital constrained in their lending since it’s just a balance sheet expansion exercise.

    They may be liquidity constrained, but it seems that every single central bank is feeding as much liquidity as the banks demand.

    Only New Zealand seems to understand the problem – they’ve just implemented max Loan to Value but it’s debatable what effect it’ll have.

    Property is an illiquid market with irrational actors and a significant FOMO (fear of missing out). Supply and demand are largely irrelevant.

  • When it comes to cars, two points. First, a lot of people will need cars to get to work. Second, cars (especially second-hand ones) are not that expensive to buy. Third, (and this is speculation) I wonder if there is an element of “Well, I will never be able to afford a house but I can afford a car.”

    Exactly. There was a time when having a car meant you’re wealthy enough to buy a house. Now the purchase price of a brand new Beamer wouldn’t even cover the deposit.

  • staghounds

    Actually removal of planning control would enrich the “big feudal landowners” the most, and harm the banks and current house owners/landlords most.

    The Duke of Bucchleuch could put a thousand houses on only a fraction of his property, generating millions with only a tiny proportional diminution of acreage.

    The person with one or a few houses, and the banker with thousands of notes secured by expensive houses, are the ones who would suffer from cheaper housing.

  • staghounds

    Aren’t you all ignoring the fact that living with parents is a rational economic decision? It’s far cheaper, to start with. And with some planning, it avoids death duties. It increases the family’s wealth- even if the child is paying rent- since the rent goes to the parents and I’ll bet the tax man never hears about it. So it decreases government’s cut, too.

  • a_random_guy

    There does seem to be a cultural shift. Anyone my age, plus or minus 10 years or so, can only remember wanting out, out, out at the age of 18 or thereabouts.

    Economics aside, today’s youth doesn’t seem to feel the same need to get out of the nest. I have a son in his very late teens, and even though he is a pretty independent sort, I expect him to remain living at home another 3-4 years. At that point, I expect him to leave on his own. If he doesn’t, he will anyway, if you get my drift.

    In modern times, letting an adult child live with the parents indefinitely stunts their growth into independently functioning adults. It’s a damned cruel parent who doesn’t see that. There seem to be a lot of those parents around though.

    On the subject of eternal childhoot, just a few days ago, I read that 3% of 20-somethings have their parents attend job interviews with them; another 5% take the parents with them for security, but have them wait outside during the actual interview. If I ever see that, it will be the shortest interview ever; I don’t hire children.

  • bloke in spain

    ” > And you can’t just blame the planning system without acknowledging what the planning system is responding to. Their pressure to restrict building to maintain house prices. <
    @PdeH
    I know exactly what it is responding to: existing land owner investors and state managerialists in equal measure… which is why I want the state out of the land-use-approval business. "

    The "state" your're talking about is a democratic institution responding to democratic pressure. There's no possibility, other than in a wilderness, you can not have some sort of planning system. Because new building affects other people. Absence of one would take you in the direction of shanty towns & industrial blight. Planning is what has been voted for.
    The "state manageralists" you're referring to are simply responding to the situation, as is. The combination of universal suffrage with high levels of owner occupation. If the situation was universal suffrage but high levels of rented occupation, the relative small proportion of existant landlords wouldn't be able to counter an electoral pressure of renters wishing for more accommodation to be built.
    The situation you're in is a direct result of democracy. Existent homeowners, who see their houses as an 'investment', will not vote for a government whose policies would reduce the value of that 'investment'.
    I should imagine a blog like this, with a largely middle-class, property owning readership is largely patronised with people who do just this. They have skin in the game. They vote to perpetuate the situation. You want to change it, remove property rights or reduce democracy.

  • Laird

    Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but as I understand it throughout most of human history it was entirely normal for multiple generations to be occupying the same dwelling, especially in agrarian societies. The middle generation would be tilling the fields and generally providing sustenance, and the older generation would be helping mind the younger children (the older children would be in the fields, too) and take care of the household. The fact that we’ve gotten away from that social structure in the last few generations doesn’t mean that returning to it (at least in part) is necessarily a bad thing.

  • Thank Laird – I was going to bring up the same point, but wasn’t sure about not being totally off the mark about it…

  • Richard Thomas

    I’m with Laird and Alisa. It wouldn’t surprise me if getting young adults out of the home was a scheme to sell a bunch of those tiny shoebox homes that have popped up everywhere and push house prices up generally.

    With that said, I was out of the house at 18 and glad of it. My brother stuck around a few years longer though (who can argue with free/cheap rent?)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird and Alisa, agree 100%. And is it not the case that out East (in Japan anyway), for children to move out before marriage is considered a dreadful dishonor to the parents? Or is that changing?

    Course, I thought I had done pretty well in the Parent Lottery, but I was still glad to go off to school and be all “grown-up and independent.” :>)

    And, of course, here at least geographical movement is a feature of our whole history.

    Interesting topic.

  • marvo

    And cars are only expensive because of tax and insurance. Guess who controls that cost?

  • landexpoiter

    Having been part of the “landowning class” I can assure George we loathe land planners at least as much as those 20 somethings who don’t have enough to buy digs but do have enough to buy a car. Planning councils interfere with our ability to provide housing that allows us to make enough profit to proved yet more housing. After battling liberal land planners for too long I’ve chosen to get out of the business and let those who think it’s us “feudal barons” causing the lack of affordable housing to sink or swim with their liberal cousins on the councils.

  • Tedd

    I’d like to add a bit of perspective on the planning laws v. landowners debate. Over here in the northernmost colony, we have a boatload of land and have never had a “land owning class” in anything like the manner of the British Isles. But we do have fairly extensive planning laws and some pretty expensive real estate — the second correlating quite well with the first. Not as much of either as the UK, but enough to suggest to me that Perry’s argument is on the right track.

    I have no doubt that property owners have exerted undue influence over the market, even here. But it is largely through the mechanism of planning laws that they do so.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Tedd,

    If you’re far enough from “civilization” that “nobody knows what a telephone is,” I think I’ll pack my bags and sneak across the border.

    I will require cable internet, of course. :>)

  • Tedd

    Julie:

    Pack warm underwear. The paradise you seek exists, but it’s a tad further north than I am.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah, yes. We did get down to 5˚below last night (are you folks Fahrenheit or Centigrade?), but I understand Yellowknife runs a little chillier in winter.

    Whereabouts are you (roughly, I mean) anyway? Montreal? Toronto? Calgary? Vancouver? Etc.