Perspectives : Markets & Economy | July 13, 2023

Key U.S. housing drivers: A look at demographics

Read time: 4 minutes

New Vanguard research identifies three drivers likely to support the U.S. housing market. This second of three articles highlights one of the drivers: supportive demographic trends. “In this economic cycle, we expect housing to become a stabilizing force rather than a further drag as in past cycles,” said Josh Hirt, a Vanguard senior economist and part of the team conducting the research. “The undersupply of homes, supportive demographic trends, and healthy borrower fundamentals are key structural areas of support for the market ahead.”

The pool of home buyers is on the rise

The 2007 subprime mortgage crisis that devastated the housing market was exacerbated by a shrinking number of potential home buyers. The crisis roughly coincided with the prime home-buying age group (defined as those 25 to 40) transitioning from what was then the largest demographic cohort—baby boomers—to the considerably smaller Generation X cohort.

The first chart shows that the size of the home-buying pool, as a percentage of the overall working population, has recently shifted again, with millennials—another large cohort—helping to lift that ratio from around 2015 onward.

“The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the surge in housing demand, but a demographic shift has been quietly influencing the market for a number of years,” Hirt said. “This will continue to be a positive market influence for much of this decade.”

The prime age cohort for home buying will keep growing through 2030

Note: The placement of the three generations’ labels represents the year when an individual at the generation’s median is also at the median age for the prime home-buying cohort.

Sources: Vanguard, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A sea change in sentiment is also helping to fuel demand

For several years following the subprime mortgage crisis, homeownership and attitudes toward buying a home declined significantly.

“Those downturns may have been related to how potential home buyers saw their friends or parents affected by the crisis, or how the recession brought on by the crisis impacted their ability to finance the purchase of a home,” said Ian Kresnak, a Vanguard investment strategist. “Whatever the cause, the share of the population interested in homeownership fell to about 2%—well below the average of 3.5% for the four decades ended in 2018, according to the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey.”

More recently, that sentiment has surged, the survey shows: About 6% of respondents now report they are considering buying a home in the coming six months. “Sentiment indicators can be circumstantial,” Hirt said, “but we find it currently to be a representative measure of the attitude shift, and it correlates well with increased demand and rising homeownership rates in the U.S.”

Portion of U.S. population planning to buy a home is nearly double the long-run average

Sources: Vanguard, using data from the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey.

What robust demographics could mean for the housing market

Not only is the pool of potential home buyers expanding, but also a much larger share of that pool is keen on purchasing a home soon.

These favorable demographics—along with an undersupply of homes and strong borrower fundamentals—should put housing on the path to becoming an economic stabilizer, with negative contributions to GDP since mid-2021 turning positive by 2024.

Josh Hirt, CFA
Vanguard Senior U.S. Economist

Ian Kresnak, CFA
Vanguard Investment Strategy Analyst

Konstantin Nikolaev, CFA
Vanguard Fixed Income Credit Analyst

Peter Maguire, CFA
Vanguard Senior High-Yield Fixed Income Credit Analyst