A Generational Collision

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July 26, 2016

Last year, a well-known business blog called the divide between Millennials and Boomers the biggest long-term story on the U.S. economy. There’s no doubt that differences exist between these generations that go beyond texting instead of picking up the phone. While Millennials are revving up their adult lives, many Baby Boomers are dialing theirs down, or at least pondering it.

While many Millennials struggle to get a down payment together if they can do it at all, Boomers often have equity. But despite these real and salient contrasts, builders, designers, and developers are finding that the two generations, which currently bookend the housing market, share a surprising number of common needs and desires. “The youngers are having a hard time starting out, while many of the olders are realizing that bigger isn’t better,” says Langley, Wash.-based architect Ross Chapin, who is well-known for designing pocket neighborhoods—small enclaves that foster community while figuring in privacy, inspired by early 20th-century bungalow courts. 

The cohorts known as Millennials (born between 1982 and 2000) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) each span an 18-year age range. The problem is, two decades of life potentially encompass several stages: Making categorical assumptions based on demographic labels risks gross generalization (not to mention annoyance from those being categorized). “As soon as a Millennial has kids, the needs are different—they’re thinking about a house, a backyard, and a swingset,” points out Mike Woodley, principal of Woodley Architectural Group, with offices in both the Denver metro area and Orange County, Calif. “They may not be Gen X, but the needs are similar, and that’s where the commonalities are.” Woodley advises thinking in terms of life stages rather than age groups. 

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