More young adults pooling resources to purchase homes

Limited in pursuing the American Dream of homeownership by college debt, economic conditions, and high housing prices? More young adults are buying homes with other people:

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For millennials, many of whom are getting married later in life, swimming in student-loan debt and facing soaring home prices, homeownership can feel more like a fantasy than an achievable goal. So, some first-time home buyers are taking a more creative route to make it happen—by pooling their finances with partners, friends or roommates.

Since 2014, when millennials became the largest share of home buyers in the U.S., the number of home and condo sales across the country by co-buyers has soared. The number of co-buyers with different last names increased by 771% between 2014 and 2021, according to data from real-estate analytics firm Attom Data Solution.

The pandemic added fuel to that trend, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Among all age groups during the early pandemic months—April to June 2020—11% of buyers purchased as an unmarried couple and 3% as “other” (essentially, roommates). Those numbers were up from 9% and 2%, respectively, in the previous year.

This is an interesting situation: Americans continue to want to purchase homes. However, this is not within the reach of many unless they have ways to draw on additional resources.

I do wonder how this is connected to broader changes in households and the formation of families. How does this all work with more Americans living alone, changes in marriage rates, and extended emerging adulthood?

I have heard many warnings over the years about co-signing loans, even among family. Some of these arrangements could present complications in the long run:

Legal experts advise buyers to consult a real-estate attorney to help write a co-ownership agreement that covers every possible scenario, from job loss to marriage to personal fallouts. For example, who will hire the handyman if there is a plumbing issue? Who is in charge of collecting and making the mortgage payments? If one co-owner moves away, will the other co-owners have an option to buy them out or will there be a forced sale of the home?

While this is still a small minority of homeowners, it is worth paying attention to with high housing prices and economic anxiety.

Religious parents, congregations, and passing on faith

Sociologists Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk have a new book where they look at parents and passing down religion to children. In an interview, here is how Smith describes some of the findings:

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The other big surprise was parents’ views of their religious congregations. The common story is that laypeople just want to dump their kids off at church and have religion taken care of by youth ministers. But we found parents just want church to be friendly and a good environment, but they think it’s their job to take care of religious things. That seemed to be kind of a mismatch in how clergy and youth ministers think about parental involvement and the way parents described that involvement…

In the book, you say that a central part of your argument is that what religion is has fundamentally changed from a “communal solidarity project” to a “personal identity accessory.” Can you elaborate briefly on what that means?

This is my historical interpretation of our findings, trying to make the best theoretical sense I can of what’s going on. The idea of a communal solidarity project is that in a former time in American history, religion would have been much more of a collective, community-based experience. It would have been something people shared in common and that had much more of a social dynamic to it. The parents wouldn’t have had so much burden to promote religion because it would’ve just been living in the community. Over time, that world has dissolved…

And you raised the question of mismatch earlier, but I would say this is the real mismatch. Not so much strategy differences between parents and youth ministers, but what church is for. I think some of the main actors that are gathered in congregations have very different ideas of what they’re even doing there. What’s fascinating, sociologically, is how they can continue that mismatch for years and not really figure out the differences between each other—like not really have it dawn on them, “Oh, we have totally different realities going on here.”

These are big picture issues regarding religion in the United States: what is the role or place for parents even alongside the common idea that children should be able to make their own choices? What are religious congregations about: places of religious community and solidarity or places for individual consumers to take what they can get? How do parents and churches interact when their goals might be similar but their means and/or expectations differ?

One notable feature in the books Smith and his colleagues have written about the faith of teenagers and emerging adults is how these patterns among younger adults help shed light on broader patterns in American society. What teenagers take in and how they act does not come out of nowhere. They may be exacerbating existing trends or remixing elements of culture, but they are building on what is already happening with adults, institutions, families, and others.

Town, gown, and attracting remote workers

Two universities, Purdue and West Virginia are hoping remote workers might like the community to be found in college towns:

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Universities have long hosted corporate incubators, but the new programs represent another way the pandemic has shifted the way colleges think about who works on campus, and why. Many universities are considering how employees’ desires for remote work will affect their own human-resources policies. These colleges, however, are making a play for other people’s employees, showing that campuses will both influence and be affected by this major shift in where Americans live and work.

Purdue is set to hold a visitors’ weekend for a small group of applicants for a so-called “remote-working community” in the campus’s business-and-research park, which is operated by the university’s research foundation and a development company. These people will uproot their lives — some with a deal-sweetening $5,000 — to move to West Lafayette, Ind. They can live at discounted rates in housing built in the Purdue park and access campus facilities, including the library and a co-working space…

West Virginia University and its state’s tourism agency are teaming up to try to recruit outdoor enthusiasts to Morgantown, Shepherdstown, and Lewisburg. The campus is offering free certifications — in remote work or remote management — through its business school. Other incentives, backed by donors and the state, include $12,000 in cash over two years, the subsidizing of activities like skiing and rafting, and co-working space and social programming…

Remote employees want to be in places with amenities — locations with “substantial infrastructure” and a “built-in community,” said Evan Hock, co-founder of MakeMyMove, which promotes incentive packages for relocations and has listed the offerings of both West Virginia and Purdue. The company and Purdue developed the incentive package together, he said. He expects college towns to hold these employees’ interest, he said. “Ultimately, the bet that the university is making is that more smart people in a region is better.”

This assumes, of course, that colleges will be back to their thriving residential centers this upcoming year and in the near future. During COVID-19, college towns may not have been much better than many other locations in the United States regarding finding community.

Another factor in favor of this idea: with the period of emerging adulthood where college graduates have years after graduation to settle in to college life, more might appreciate being around some of the things they liked about college. This could help the transition by providing access to college energy and activities without the same day-to-day schedule.

However, I do not think it is a surprise that these two schools are featured in this story. How many college graduates, even from these schools, want to stick around in these locations? In contrast, would schools like UCLA or NYU want to offer such programs? The incentives are being offered to attract workers to western Indiana and West Virginia because they are the kinds of places even remote workers might not consider. Remote workers can go a lot of places but they also probably follow popular patterns of where Americans would go if they could.

Americans celebrate moving away from their small home town

An excerpt from a new book presents an American conundrum: many Americans like the idea of small towns yet celebrate moving away from them.

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I was humiliated, not just because I’d left school, but because I’d glaringly stumbled off the traditional path everyone I knew had taken: If you move away from home, you don’t move back. That’s not how young adults do it. We leave. We find our way.…

So there’s this push and pull, where fulfilling this Americanized ideal of being out on one’s own and forging one’s own life comes at the real cost of contributing to families and communities in tangible ways, Katsiaficas explained. “For so many young people that I’ve talked to, they’ve narrated that hyperindividualism as a real sense of loss,” she said. Rarely, if ever, had I heard that sense of loss, or even homesickness, described as anything other than something we’re supposed to grow out of…

Because moving is so ingrained in how we think about this time of life, even though not everyone can “achieve” that milestone, staying seems like it is rarely celebrated. With going-away parties to celebrate new adventures and graduation parties to mark the close of one chapter and the beginning of another, staying in one place can feel boring…

In our conversation, Warnick pointed out that there is a stigma in America against not only small towns, but staying in the same place at all. We tend to think of it as representing “the abandonment of our big dreams,” Warnick said, a feeling of escape that some young people feel acutely. I felt called out, and with good reason: I’d clung to the belief that life would really begin once I left wherever I was. It kept dreams I was too scared to say aloud at arm’s length; it allowed me to imagine, and reimagine, the “best life” I’d finally find with a new zip code, conveniently forgetting that my real life was happening wherever I happened to be. I could participate, or I could wait. And for years, I waited.

There is a lot to consider here: the particular stage of life in the discussion here (from roughly college to settling down as an adult), mobility, frontiers, cities versus other settings, and larger American narratives about success. A few quick thoughts in response:

  1. I wonder how much these narratives differ across places. Is this more prevalent in rural areas where the allure of trying the big city is strong or is it also present in big cities where young people want to experience other places, including other appealing big cities? This could help untangle whether this is more about small towns or a general theme that emerging adults need to strike out on their own somewhere else.
  2. This reminds of some marriage advice I once read that suggested newlyweds should move hundreds of miles away from both families to establish themselves as a couple before moving back near family. Does such a narrative go against most of human history?
  3. Could all of this help explain the enduring appeal of the suburbs? They are not quite small towns but they are not cities. Americans can feel better about returning to suburban municipalities and making a home there because it feels in between.
  4. This all seems to beg for a more robust theology of place in the United States.
  5. It would be interesting to know how social media and the Internet either help connect people to home towns from afar or present just a poor and ultimately unsatisfactory substitute.
  6. Plenty of Americans do stay in the community in which they grew up or stay nearby. What is different about their stories? What are the factors that help explain why some commit to staying and others leave?
  7. How do Americans process their experiences with and understandings of place? If the emphasis is largely on mobility or making do where you are, this might discourage positive memories or investing too much in a particular place.

Online publication of “Emerging SNS use”

My colleague Peter Mundey and I have a new article published online at the Journal of Youth Studies titled “Emerging SNS use: the importance of social network sites for older American emerging adults.”

The abstract:

This study asks how older emerging adults (23–28 years old) describe, understand, and interpret their own social network site (SNS) use, as well as whether this SNS use promotes social ties and life satisfaction or leads to negative consequences. Based on organic mentions of SNS use in interviews from Wave 4 of the National Study of Youth and Religion (N = 302), we find: maintaining relationships is the largest SNS use while older emerging adults also expressed difficulties in online relationships and finding romantic partners; they use SNS in new domains, such as work and politics; aging and generational changes affect how they view SNS use as they have new demands on their time; and they expect to continue to use SNS. The findings suggest limited support for the argument that SNS use promotes sociality and well-being and some indications that SNS use negatively influences older emerging adults. We argue SNS use will be similar and different as older emerging adults age – they will continue to use SNS to maintain relationships yet new demands will alter other uses – and this has implications for employment as well for as political, religious, and SNS leaders.

 

A preview of my upcoming talk on social media, emerging adults, and religiosity

Ahead of my participation in the “Emerging Adults: Formation for Mission” conference taking place soon on the Wheaton College campus is an interview regarding my talk:

I would describe the use of social media by emerging adults as a mix of excitement and resignation. A vast majority of emerging adults participate. They describe learning about relationships they already have, connecting with friends and family, seeing pictures, sharing jokes.

They find out about events and news through social media. They search for romantic partners through social media.

On the other side, they can articulate some of the downsides of this use including a lack of focus, not spending time with people (just their feeds), and the conflict that can arise in social media. Not participating means missing key connections and knowledge that others can access. Current emerging adults have known and participated in social media all of their lives and will continue to use social media as they age beyond this life stage.

The emerging adults of today are immersed in social media, technology, and other forms of media and they bring this with them as they consider faith and church.

While there is a lot of work looking at social media or social network site (SNS) use, relatively little of it in sociology and other disciplines addresses how this activity is influenced by or influences religion. This talk will help bring together several years of research projects with my sociology colleagues Peter Mundey and Jon Hill.

Biggest European youth survey to conclude with two documentaries

Several researchers are embarking on what they say will be the biggest survey of young adults in Europe but what the results will lead to is different:

RTÉ is seeking 18-34-year-olds to take part in a pan-European online survey that it hopes will produce the “most comprehensive sociological study” of the age group ever presented…

Processing the data will involve a three pronged approach. There will be a quantitative side based on the questionnaire results, a qualitative approach based on documentary videos of groups of people and individuals filling out the survey, and a comparative approach looking at how the answers compare with other European societies…

“We’re ultimately going to produce two one-hour documentaries later this year, which will be the sociological analysis of the survey, and which we hope will provide a very valuable window into contemporary Ireland today.

If there is so much good data to be collected here, the choice to conclude with a documentary is an interesting one. On one hand, the typical sociology approach would be to publish at least a journal article if not a book. On the other hand, if the researchers are trying to reach a broader audience, a documentary that is widely available might get a lot more attention. At least in the United States, documentaries might be seen as nice efforts at public sociology but they are unlikely to win many points toward good research (perhaps even if they are used regularly in sociology courses).

Why doesn’t the American Sociological Association have an arm that puts together documentaries based on sociological work? Or, is there some money to be made here for a production company to regularly put out sociological material? Imagine Gang Leader For a Day or Unequal Childhoods as an 80 minute documentary.

Unclear how much student debt is holding back the housing market

The sluggish housing market is likely not helped by the amount of student debt held by young adults:

[T]he Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports today that in 2013, student debtors between the ages of 27 and 30 were less likely to own a home—or, specifically, to have a mortgage—than their peers who were student-debt free. Homeownership rates have fallen fast among all young adults since the recession. But, as shown below, they’ve dropped most precipitously among those who borrowed for school.

6a01348793456c970c01a511b13bd1970c450wi_1Federal Reserve Bank of New York

There’s one key detail this graph leaves out, however, which the Fed shared in a separate report from early last year (and which I’ve written on before). It turns out that, at the end of 2012, borrowers who were current on their student loan payments were actually more likely to take out a mortgage than other young adults. Borrowers who were delinquent on their student loans, however, took out barely any mortgages at all. In other words, young people who already couldn’t handle their debt simply weren’t in the market for houses.

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Federal Reserve Bank of New York

A key point: having college debt doesn’t completely stop mortgage originations. So, reducing college debt (and look at the median, not the average) could help free up the housing market but it isn’t the only problem.

I wonder if there isn’t another way to think about this: more young Americans are willing to trade a college degree for homeownership before they are 30. This could be due to a variety of reasons including earning potential due to a college degree but also a decreased interest in owning a home as opposed to accomplishing other goals like living in an exciting place or establishing themselves in a career. In other words, this issue may not really be about college debt holding people back but rather about the relative interest young adults have in owning a house.

New TV shows with young adults feature unrealistically large city apartments

The dwellings of many young adults on television are quite large:

Plenty of things are unrealistic about television: No iconic moment in my life has ever been accompanied by Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen,” despite how much I wish it were. But the perpetual tiny-but-annoying quirk that most shows are guilty of is the unemployed twentysomething with a fabulous apartment. I’m onto you, Girls: No matter how much junk you throw around in Marnie and Hannah’s onetime-shared living space, it doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve got a ton of room. I live in New York City; I know you’re lying to me.

This isn’t anything new, of course. The go-to example is usually Carrie Bradshaw and her ridiculous Manhattan apartment with its gorgeous walk-in closet full on Manolos when her only source of explained income was a weekly newspaper column. But while everyone loves some good 1998 nostalgia (the Friends’ West Village apartments are another egregious example), the trend of the unbelievably large home isn’t fading away.

I’m not simply talking about gorgeous, jealousy-inspiring apartments; I totally get and buy into the fact that say, Dr. Lahiri from The Mindy Project would have an awe-worthy living space to bring all of her meet-cute boyfriends. What I can’t get behind is recent shows like dearly-departed Happy Endings (perpetually unemployed Max’s “gross loft” in Chicago is gorgeous) or 2 Broke Girls‘ Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment (They’re supposed to actually be broke, not heiresses!) where the characters ostensibly “have no money,” yet are somehow chilling around complaining about said fact in an abode that would retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sure, this is a minor issue. None of this is getting in the way of my enjoyment of all of these shows. But there is some point during each of these programs’ respective runs — often more than once — where I’ll laugh out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it. It’s all I can do; I can’t change the channel: basically all shows with twenty-something characters are guilty of this. Weirdly enough, the most realistic living set-up on television right now might be the Big Brother house, with all 16 of its residents fighting in a Hunger Games of sorts for limited bed space.

Several quick thoughts:

1. If Big Brother is perceived to be more realistic, these other shows may have some problems.

2. Of the examples cited above, most of the urban apartments are in New York City with one in Chicago (Happy Endings). Manhattan and some of the surroundings areas are some of the most expensive areas in the country so the housing situation as portrayed on TV is really unrealistic. At the same time, TV shows with young adults in places like Atlanta or Houston or Dallas or some other cheaper markets could feature bigger apartments without losing all realism.

3. This is not a new phenomenon on TV. In The Overspent American, sociologist Juliet Schor talks about the expanding middle-class lifestyle on television in the later decades of the 20th century. As the years went by, middle-class people on TV had more and more material goods, larger houses, and had fewer concerns about work and money. Schor then argues that TV contributed to changing perceptions among Americans in what they needed to own to have “the good life.”

4. Shows on channels like HGTV don’t help. It seems like every show features a person looking for the most-updated features. Granted, their price range varies quite a bit but the homes tend to be on the larger side. This is simply unrealistic for many emerging adults.

5. There is potential here for some TV shows to work with more size-appropriate dwellings. How about a show about young people revolving around micro-apartments? How about bringing back the starter home on TV?

Where emerging adults live tends to perpetuate residential segregation

A new study suggests mobility patterns of emerging adults tend to reinforce existing patterns of residential segregation:

“We were interested in this idea that this stage of the life-course could be a potentially really important juncture for breaking down these kinds of very long-established patterns of residential segregation and all of the inequalities that go with them,” says Marcus Britton, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has studied the question. “Unfortunately, our results are not tremendously encouraging on that score.”

Britton and Pat Goldsmith, a sociologist at Texas A&M, examined records from the National Education Longitudinal Study of more than 7,000 students who were eighth-graders in 1988. That study followed these students through 2000, when most of them were 26. Britton and Goldsmith, in research published in the journal Urban Studies, compared their home zip codes and other characteristics at various points along this timeline with census data collected in 1990 and 2000 about the racial makeup of those neighborhoods.

Blacks and Hispanics who migrated to new metropolitan areas were, in fact, more likely to live in zip codes with greater exposure to whites, unlike minorities who moved within their own city. But few minorities actually made such long-distance moves. This means that segregation persists in part because many minorities have limited exposure to integrated neighborhoods as children, but also because they have limited mobility as they age to relocate somewhere entirely new.

Britton has conducted other research that suggests that minorities are also much more likely to live at home as young adults than whites are. And given patterns that we’ve seen more recently during the recession – when young twentysomethings of all races have been stuck at home – these trends bode particularly poorly for integration.

This is a clever research design: emerging adults, who may be more interested in diversity compared to older generations and who are also in a period of transition where they can try out some new kinds of places, might break out of patterns of residential segregation. But, this description of the research findings suggests it is difficult to move beyond past residential segregation patterns. This sounds like a basic sociological finding, people are strongly influenced by past conditions, but also adds the element that even a younger generation who has heard more about diversity and may be more interested in living in urban areas is also not willing or able to move in large numbers to more diverse places.

This would be something interesting to keep track of in the future: could we envision a United States in several decades where most people support diversity and fighting inequality based on race/ethnicity, class, and gender but few people are willing to actually change where they or others live?