Generation X, expects…
One of my favourite economics correspondents.
Jacob Greber at the AFR, recently dug up a ripper 2009 quote from Guy Debelle, Assistant Governor at the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Speaking at a debate at the University of Western Sydney, Debelle lamented that economics and politics is dominated by the demands of the median voter, a group that he noted is ageing quickly.
Debelle bemoaned that throughout his whole life he will never be the median voter, and instead “unfortunate” Generation X will continue to be “screwed” by Baby Boomers (who “throughout their whole life” will be the median voter):
“By the time I get towards the end of my working life, I’ll be paying off the pensions of the Baby Boomers.
By the time I actually get to be on the pension, assuming I’m ever allowed to retire, Generation Y will be coming along and reducing my pension”.
When I first read this, I assumed that the comments about Generation X being screwed by the Baby Boomers were tongue-in-cheek, designed to raise a chuckle in front of a live audience.
But then it occurred to me that, generally speaking, central bankers don’t often do tongue in cheek, particularly given that their words tend to be analysed so closely.
It also got me thinking that surely he can’t be right…
After some consideration (and via some Twitter chat – thanks guys!) I concluded that Debelle must have assumed a camel-shaped demographic age distribution, with Baby Boomers continuing to make up the greatest share of the population continually, before popping their clogs.
However, largely due to our immigration policies, this will probably not be the case.
The median aged Australian is actually…well, me – in their late thirties – and the median aged voter is somewhat older, in their mid-forties.
Note here the relative dearth of folks in their thirties.
I felt for a short while that perhaps Debelle meant to say “mode” (being the voter age that occurs most often) but this doesn’t make sense either.
In fact, as I write this the mode age in Australia is 26, with about 184,000 males and 179,000 females aged 26 today.
Favourable demographics – spending waves
Australia’s actual and projected population pyramid is one of the reasons I’ve been long term bullish on capital city housing markets, and their ability to bounce back from the next downturn over the medium term.
The median aged Australian and Aussie voter in 2021 won’t be much changed from today – it will only be a notch higher due to most immigrants being younger than the median age.
Not only is Australia’s population projected (admittedly perhaps a tad optimistically) to surge to 26,450,000 by the end of 2021 from about 24,158,000 today – an increase of up to 2.3 million – there will also be a massive surge in 31 to 38 year olds (a key demographic for housing demand) from that year forth.
Rolling the chart packs forward by calendar year we find that it is around 2021 that the number of potential first homebuyers reaches a critical mass which might be considered compelling, with the number of 31 to 38 year olds in particular mushrooming to a total of more than 3.1 million, from around only 2.6 million in 2014.
In the period through to 2027, that number is projected to have expanded further still to more than 3.3 million.
As this effective “spending wave” passes through 2021, therefore, the demographic factors for Australian housing market growth look to be particularly favourable from that year until around 2027 inclusive.
Rolling out the population projections to 2061 sees the expected total population explode to beyond 41,500,000, yet the median age still won’t be much higher than it is today – it will probably have nudged up slightly into the low forties, while the median aged voter will likely be in their late forties.
Looking at this chart, unless I’ve missed something, I still can’t work out exactly what Debelle was driving at.
The above points are important because they challenge the widely held assumption that Baby Boomers will always be the most significant social cohort, the proverbial tennis ball passing through a snake.
What really rankled with me, though, was the notion that the unfortunate members of Generation X have been screwed, and have had it so tough.
By my reckoning Debelle graduated towards the end of the 1980s, and so has been in the workforce (Treasury, IMF, Reserve Bank) through a quarter of a century or 100 consecutive quarters of more or less unbroken economic growth, incorporating a mining investment boom, and significant asset price inflation.
I’d have thought there has been no better time in history to be alive!
Granted, perhaps things didn’t seem quite so rosy in 2009, when he made the observations.
Australia is also by and large a safe country, tolerant, and has freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.
There is opportunity everywhere in Australia, and the internet has brought ever greater openings, opportunities, and markets.
Furthermore, it’s a free country and nobody gets to decide whether you work or when you retire, except for you.
The government certainly doesn’t get to decide for you!
It’s a fact that some people will always disagree with such an world view, and some people will never grasp the opportunities.
Briefly pay attention to your own reaction.
If your first words were “But I can’t, because…” then ask yourself instead: why not?
Australia is a country of abundance with almost endless opportunities, all around.
And some people will grab them.
So why not you?
But to paraphrase Henry Ford, whether you think that’s true or not, you’re probably right…for you