"A Rough Decade Ahead" - 'Math' & The Future Of The US Housing Market

Authored by Chris Hamilton via Econimica blog,


  • New Housing is being Created at an Unprecedented 2.5x's the pace of the Growth of the 15 to 64yr/old Population

  • Total Annual Population Growth Has Slowed 25% from Peak Growth, 2 Decades Ago

  • However, Annual Population Growth Among 15 to 64yr/olds Has Slowed Over 80% From Peak Growth & Will Continue Decelerating Through 2030

  • 15 to 64yr/olds Do Nearly all the Net Home Buying, 65+yr/olds Net Home Selling

    • 15 to 64yr/olds Have a 70% Labor Force Participation Rate vs. 27% for 65-74yr/olds, just 8% for 75+yr/olds

    • 15 to 64yr/olds Earn and Spend Double that of 65-74yr/olds & triple that of 75+yr/olds

    • 65+yr/olds Have Highest Homeownership Rate at 78% vs. Just 36% for Group with Lowest Rate, 15 to 34yr/olds

    • 15-64yr/olds are Credit Willing Relative to Credit Averse 65+yr/olds

I read an article  a few days ago that got me thinking.  The article's author claimed,

"At 5% mortgage rates and with today's level of affordability, history shows that there is nothing in the way from having a homebuilding boom over the next ten years to satisfy this demographic demand."

I found the claim contrary to everything I think I know, so I thought I'd lay out the counter argument.

The chart below shows annual growth of the 15+yr/old US population (blue columns) vs. the annual growth of the 15 to 64yr/old population (red balls).  The 15+yr/old annual population growth has fallen 25% (decline of a half million annually) since the 1998 peak but more significantly, the 15 to 64yr/old annual population growth has fallen over 80% (decline of 1.8 million/yr) due to a combination of lower immigration rates and lower birth rates.

These population growth trends will only continue to slow through 2030, according to UN and Census estimates (not really estimates, since this population is already born and simply advancing into adulthood).  The future estimates for 15 to 64yr/old population growth (presented above) include estimated immigration well above present rates.  Most, if not all (net) of the assumed 15 to 64yr/old minimal population growth is premised on ongoing immigration that continues slowing.  Thus the forward looking 15 to 64yr/old growth estimates are likely to be lower and perhaps even turning to outright annual declines.

The chart below shows average income, spending, and LFP (labor force participation) rates by age segment.  No shocker, those actively working make and spend more than those with low rates of employment.  Those who have worked longer earn more than those new to the labor force.  Elderly expenditures come into very close alignment with their (generally) fixed incomes.

Noteworthy is that 75+yr/olds have only an 8% LFP rate but will make up over half of the total 65+yr/old population growth through 2030.  The next largest growth segment is among 70 to 74yr/olds with a 19% LFP rate, and the smallest increase is among the 65 to 69yr/olds with a 32% LFP.   As an aside, 65+ year olds have the highest homeownership rates at 78% vs. 36% for those aged 15 to 34. So while the more affluent portion (5% to 20%?) of 65+yr/olds may be interested in a second home in the desert, the mountains, or beach...the majority already own and are eventually looking to downsize.  Simply stated, nearly all the coming growth is among those that work the least, earn the least, spend the least, already own homes, and are more likely to downsize than buy a second home.

Putting it all together (chart below), annual 15+yr/old total population growth (blue columns), 15 to 64yr/old population growth (red line), housing starts (yellow line), and federal funds rate (black line).  Given it is the 15 to 64yr/old population that does the net home buying, (and growth among them continues decelerating...coupled with rising rates and elevated valuations versus most population growth among 75+yr/olds who are more likely to sell via downsizing and/or willing properties to their heirs) I contend the US is creating too many homes presently, not too few.  Of course, this doesn't even factor in things like the lack of income growth among the vast majority those working, high student debt loads, slowing household formation, continued delayed family formation and the lowest birth rates in US history which were just recorded in the first quarter of 2018 (according to CDC...HERE), etc. etc.

Contrary to the author of the article that inspired me, I contend that housing is in for another very rough decade (at the very least)... likely worse than the period during the GFC.  The math is pretty straightforward on this one.