It’s Not the Avocado Toast: Federal Reserve Finds Student Debt Reducing Millennial Home Ownership

The Fed has a hot take on housing and student loans. Except this one is based on empirical research.

An "Open House" sign is displayed outside of a home for sale in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. The National Association of Realtors is scheduled to release existing home sales figures on November 22. Photographer: Scott McIntyre/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An "Open House" sign is displayed outside of a home for sale in Miami, Florida on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Photo: Scott McIntyre/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In May, a Melbourne-based real estate mogul’s claim that millennials would be able to afford homes if only they cut back on discretionary expenses such as avocado toast went viral — with many heaping mockery on the suggestion.

Now the Federal Reserve has its own hot take to throw on the pile. Except this one is based on empirical research. In a paper published last week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, five researchers offered an explanation for declining home ownership rates among millennials that does not require avocado toast.

Looking at nine student cohorts, they concluded that the increase in public tuition and resulting student debt can account for anywhere between 11 and 35 percent of the decline in home ownership for 28- to 30-year-olds in the years between 2007 and 2015.

That decrease has been sizable. They note that relative “to the 2001 age 22 cohort, the mean age 28 to 30 homeownership rates for the 2009 age 22 cohort is approximately 7.74 percentage points lower.”

The paper also finds that there isn’t a significant relationship between increasing tuition and the number of students seeking higher education — perhaps a sign of the increasing necessity of higher education in attaining living wage work. “Students’ price elasticity of demand for higher education is quite low,” they conclude. “As college costs increase, American students do not forego education, but instead amass more debt.”

The second finding, the researchers caution, shouldn’t distract policymakers from the first one. “To the extent that the ongoing de-funding of public higher education has not been met, according to these estimates, by significant declines in educational attainment, some policymakers might be tempted to infer that de-funding public higher education is costless,” they write. “However, our estimates indicate that the cost of shifting the burden of funding higher education onto the student may arrive with a lag: Early homeownership, in our empirical models, appears responsive to the costs of higher education.”

This leads the researchers to a final conclusion: “The evidence points to a final policy opportunity to stimulate youth homeownership over the long run: funding state higher education.”

Top photo: An “Open House” sign is displayed outside of a home for sale in Miami, Florida, on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.

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