Access over ownership

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Millenials, the demographic cohort that followed Generation X, are a much maligned bunch.  Also sometimes known as “Generation Y”, millenials were born between approximately 1982 and 2000, with slight fluctuations depending on country of origin.  Each generation in human history has been noted for displaying certain values, trends or characteristics, and millenials are no different.  They have been characterized as: unusually narcissistic, close to their parents, and community minded.

Brian and I are both millenials, and I can sometimes see these traits reflected in ourselves at times.  We value living in a community where we can work, shop and play.

A recent article suggests adding another item to the list of stereotypes and supposed characteristics: millenials are the cheapest generation ever.  In particular, the article describes the apparent aversion that Millenials have towards buying a car and purchasing a home – two of the major milestones of “growing up”.

Daily life of Generation Y – Credit: Emilie Ogez via Flickr

In 2010, only 27 percent of new vehicles sold in America were sold to young and not-so-young adults between the ages of 21 and 34.  In contrast, 38 percent of new cars were sold to this age group back in 1985.  Similarly, the number of miles drive and the proportion of young adults with a license fell as well.  Sounds familiar right?  Brian and I don’t have a car and we get along quite well by using a Vancouver car sharing service.  We have access to a car, whenever we want.

On the other hand, we are quite willing to purchase property.  We have a condo that we rent out and we are looking for a second.  However, we are adverse to putting down roots (at least I am!) and we don’t tend to stay in one location for very long, regardless of whether or not we own it.  It’s good enough for me that we have access to a nice apartment in a nice neighbourhood.  I don’t need to own it (unless it’s part of our investment strategy!) and I don’t need to stay in the same place forever.

Which brings me to my favourite part of the article, a quote from Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends at Ford: “Young people prize access over ownership.”  The Atlantic also makes reference to the notion of a “sharing economy” versus that of an “ownership” economy.  And it’s true, at least for us.

We don’t have a white picket fence and a yard, a nice car, or a house with lots of room for entertaining.  But we have a community garden, we’re walking distance to beautiful parks and we can drive all of the latest cars at a fraction of the cost – whenever we want.  Everything I could want, I have access to, and I don’t have to be burdened with owning it.  Instead, I can focus on owning things that make me money – my savings, my investments, and my properties.

Any other Millenials out there want to chime in?  Have you moved into the “sharing economy” or do you still want to own?

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  1. The access point is a very good one. I wish that where I live afforded me more access to certain things, ie not having to own vehicles!
    I would say that there are many, many things that I want to own, though.
    Community gardens and yard shares are another good example of the “sharing economy” that is proliferating.
    I find the assertion that we are the cheapest generation ever to be rather interesting, because I would very much disagree when comparing to my grandparents!

  2. Great points. My siblings would be considered a part of Gen Y, I am 13 & 15 years older then them, so I am Gen X. I definitely see some of your points in them. They seem to be more concerned about being cheap and not feeling like they have to own something to still accomplish what they want in comparison to other Gen X’ers I know.

    • CF says:

      Interesting! So I guess a good question would be – why do they feel like they should be cheap? Is it purely economic or is it actually a philosophical difference.

  3. I was actually just wondering the other day whether I was considered GenX or Y. According to that date range I guess I would be considered GenX, but I think I do have plenty of GenY traits. With a car, I personally felt more of a need to own, but with many other things I am fine with just having access to it.

    • CF says:

      I think the ranges are kind of fuzzy as well, especially during transition years, so it’s probably not surprising that you can identify with features of both.

  4. We’re borderline millenial/genX and we tend to like owning much more than access for things that can be considered assets.

    Yes, we rent movies because we don’t consider them much of an investment. But we buy properties, etc because we like to own them!

    • CF says:

      That’s how I feel about property too. I don’t own it necessarily because I feel like I need to own it to have a home, I own it because I consider them investments.

  5. I’d say that we’re big on owning, but that might be largely due to the city in which we live. There aren’t any reasonable public transportation options and sharing vehicles or biking to work isn’t common as our metropolitan area is one of the largest by square miles in the country.

    Owning a home is different though as I view renting as a complete waste of money. I can’t justify throwing money away and building equity in a home is a big deal to me.

    • CF says:

      I would tend to agree – with renting, you get 0 of you money back, guaranteed. With owning, you would at least get some of you money back, perhaps all of your money back and maybe make more money on top of it.

  6. I’m not a Gen Y either but like Jeremy find I carry some of the traits of GEN Y and a small part of the Baby Boomers as I believe that hard work and sacrifice are the price to pay for success. As a Gen X growing up watching our parents go through unemployment, job loss and hard times money took on a whole new meaning to me. I value continuous learning and skill development and believe those that stop learning stop time. I believe the Gen X and Y share very similar traits and values in life and in the workplace as I can see myself in Y and X and a bit of BB embracing diversity, team work and new age technologies. Maybe we adapt a piece of each generation as we go along. Cheers Mr.CBB

    • CF says:

      I can totally agree with you on continuous learning. Unless you’re consistently challenging yourself, you grow stale as a person.

      I think also that our values change and refine as we get older, so perhaps you have a point in that we pick up the best pieces of each generation as we go through life.

  7. I think that’s very true, because it’s almost impossible to have the mentality of ownership these days. Cars are expensive, houses are expensive, the only things we can afford are things we need to share (apartment building, car sharing co-op, community garden, etc…). And I’m fine with it. Life sure would be a nicer place if we had more of a sharing mentality than a “this is mine, that is yours” mentality.

    • CF says:

      Well said! I often wonder why we don’t try to share more things with our neighbours. I often borrow stuff that I need only once or twice a year.

  8. I’m a Gen X, but I do see this in a lot of my younger colleagues. But is Gen Y really that cheap? I don’t remember paying $50 to fill my gas tank and spending $100 every month on my iPhone?

    • CF says:

      Haha… that’s true as well. Cheapness due to necessity perhaps? But I’m not sure I’d want things like a car or a house, even if I could afford it.

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