Millennials really did get short end of the stick


Finally there are some facts to bring to the table in the never-ending argument between millennials, boomers and gen Xers about who had it worse.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has taken census data for baby boomers in 1991, when they were aged 25 to 39, generation X at the same age in 2006 and millennials in 2021, and compared where they were at in life.

Defining generational cohorts

Baby Boomers

Generation X


Generation born after the second World War during a period with a surge in birth rates.Generation born after Baby Boomers during a period with a drop in birth rates.Generation where the oldest in this group became adults around the turn of the millennium.
Age in 202155-69 years(a)40-54 years25-39 years
Census year at age 25-39 years199120062021


Millennials will not be surprised to learn the figures back up the sense they have lost out on the housing lottery. The Spice Girls generation may be better educated compared with previous generations at the same life stage, but it hasn’t helped them gain economic security.

Millennials are not only far less likely to own property, they’re also less likely to have been married, have fewer children than previous generations, and are more likely to be working part-time.

Living arrangements of people aged 25-39 years in 1991, 2006 and 2021, by proportion(a)

Baby Boomers in 1991 (%)

Generation X in 2006 (%)

Millennials in 2021 (%)

Couple with no children15.018.135.7
Couple with children51.540.721.2
Single parent with children4.95.84.4
With parents7.28.59.9
With other relatives2.022.4
With unrelated persons1.11.22.4
Lone person6.08.27.7
Group household5.85.26.8


When boomers were aged 25-39, they were three times more likely than millennials to own their own home without a mortgage.

The ABS doesn’t provide reasons for these trends, but they haven’t occurred in a vacuum. In the last 30 years, policymakers have steered Australia away from the dream of universal home ownership and put it on the path to “landlordism”, according to researchers at the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

Within two generations, housing policy has resulted in millions more people living in private rental housing than there otherwise would have been in Australia – a society without strong protections for renters.

On the boomer side of the scoresheet, the ABS provides a table showing that interest rates were indeed much higher by comparing the Reserve Bank’s cash rate target in 1991, 2006 and 2022.

In 1991, the official cash rate was 9.5%, but on census night in 2021 it was only 0.1%.

“Meaning that millennials would generally have had lower interest rate mortgages than the earlier generations,” the ABS says.

The ABS doesn’t provide information in this release on property prices at comparable time periods, or property prices compared with annual incomes, but it does show that boomers and millennials paid almost exactly the same proportion of their incomes on housing costs when aged 25 to 39.

In 1991, boomers were paying 20.3% of median household income on housing costs, while millennials were paying 20.7% – despite a historically low cash rate.


Millennials aged 25 to 39 are more likely than generation X and baby boomers to be studying at Tafe, university or another vocational and higher education provider. Just under 20% in that age cohort are studying, compared with 17% of the grunge generation and 12.2% of boomers.

There are more universities now, the ABS points out, with the sector expanding to include 20 new universities accredited between 1987 and 1999, and more regional campuses.

Online courses have helped increase access as well.

All of that has led to more women studying, with a majority of millennial students women (54%), which is higher than gen X at the same age (51.5%) and a jump from the 49% of baby boomers.

But the increase in qualifications also correlates with an increase in jobs which require those qualifications.

Nursing became an undergraduate degree in 1994 across all of Australia and teaching became a four-year degree in 2003. Jobs in IT and other digital industries, which largely require a qualification, didn’t exist when Bryan Adams was leading the music charts in 1991.


All that education hasn’t helped millennials when it comes to earning power though. The ABS found median incomes of 25-to-39-year-olds was higher than the median income of the overall population, which is unsurprising given it is most people’s peak earning years. But millennials who grew up with the holy trinity of Britney, Christina and J-Lo were found to have a lower median income than gen Xers who claim Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Madonna.

Labour force participation of persons aged 25-39 years, 1991, 2006 and 2021, by sex
Baby Boomers in 1991

Generation X in 2006

Millennials in 2021

Male (%)Female (%)Total (%)Male (%)Female (%)Total (%)Male (%)Female (%)Total (%)
Total in labour force92.066.27984.868.976.783.176.179.6
Not in the labour force5.730.418.18.325.617.110.418.314.4


When gen X were 25 to 39 in 2006, they were earning a personal median income 44.8% higher than the overall population’s median income, while their parents earned 43.9% higher than the median in 1991 within the same age cohort. For millennials? Personal median earnings slipped to 40.7% higher than the overall population. The cost of living is more expensive than it was 15 and 30 years ago, but on the whole, millennials are also earning less.

That has had an impact when comparing the personal median income of full-time workers (35 hours and more a week) as well.

For millennials, the personal median income in 2021 was 0.7% lower than the personal median income of all Australians aged over 15. Compare that with 25-to-39-year-olds in 2006 who were working full time, who had a median income 5.6% higher than the overall population, and full-time workers in the same age group in 1991 who were earning 8.3% higher than the overall median income.

The median weekly pay cheque may be higher – $520 for boomers, $930 for gen Xers and $1,527 for millennials – but it is not going anywhere near as far.

So there you have it. While every generation has had its moments (in 1991, when the census was taken, the nation was in the grip of a recession and boomers faced an unemployment rate above 10%), no matter how you slice it, millennials have had a particularly bad trot.

But the 2021 census also revealed millennials are about to take over from baby boomers as the largest generational group in Australia. Millennials may not own homes, but they are about to hold the most voting power – something to think about over smashed avo and an oat milk latte.

Article Credited to Amy Remeikis, The Guardian

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