Feb 052013

It is well-established that the average age of first time house buyers is greater than it was a few decades ago. This graph is from today’s BBC article Have young people never had it so bad?


There are various reasons for this. One reason that tends to be neglected is that the average age of the end of full time education is also greater than it was a few decades ago.  If one of the factors involved in buying a house is the number of years spent earning money to contribute to a deposit on the house, then there would naturally be some correlation between the two trends.

Example: I was born in 1947 and bought my first house in 1975 (aged 28), at the left of the above graph. About 75% of my year went to a Secondary Modern school and left full time education at 15. (On the council estate where I lived at the time, many children were not entered for the 11+ because their parents wanted them to start work at 15!) About 5% of us went to university (my parents were unusual). So the average age at the end of full time education was months over 15.

Now the minimum school leaving age (since 1972) is 16, and about 35% of people go to university. The average age at the end of full time education now is closer to 19. It was lower than this for the people born 1983 who were 29 and buying their first house at the right of the above graph. But it was at least a year or two higher than 15. I would have predicted an average age of first time house buyers now of about 28 (26 + 2) without considering any other factors. And that was my age when I bought my first house in 1975!

This is just one factor. There is a consensus that an important problem is a shortage of suitable houses, with implications for house prices because of the law of supply and demand. Another reason is a high level of youth unemployment. But the effects of all of these must surely be judged against the expectation that the age of first time house buying will naturally tend to rise as the age of the end of full time education and the entry into work rises.

(It will be interesting to see what happens after 2013 and 2014 when people must be in full time education or apprenticeships or work-with-training until 17 then 18 respectively).

Other cases where length of full education matters

1. Surely the state pension age should have risen at least as fast as the average age of the end of full time education? Why isn’t it already about 3 or 4 years higher than it was just a few decades ago, to maintain a similar average interval between starting work and claiming a pension? (This point is separate from increasing life expectancy).

2. The changing length of full time education has distorted the figures for youth unemployment, making the trends appear worse than they are:

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