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Opinion
Conor Sen

Millennials Will Swap Experiences for Buying Stuff

With the coronavirus making dining out, travel and attending big public events risky, people will spend more on a comfortable home life.

Goodbye to all that.

Goodbye to all that.

Photographer: VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP

One of the lasting effects of the Great Recession was a shift in consumer preferences from things to experiences. Homeownership, especially among millennials, fell out of favor amid distressed personal finances and changes in mortgage regulations while the rise of smartphones, social media and services such as Uber and Airbnb nurtured a consumer culture focused on dining, travel and events. A post-coronavirus, pre-vaccine world will upend this lifestyle, which will likely be replaced with the consumption patterns of older generations. As long as social distancing and fears of getting the virus persist, consumers probably will spend more on the trappings of their homes rather than services and experiences involving public spaces and crowds.

In hindsight, there were three main reasons that consumption shifted from things to experiences after the financial crisis. The first is that between 2006 and 2014, the number of U.S. owner-occupied households fell by almost 1 million while the number of renter households increased by 7 million. This effect was even more exaggerated among the young, as the number of homeowner households under age 40 fell more than 3 million during that time. An explosion in the number of young renters, many of whom flocked to cities for career and dating prospects, meant more buying power for things other than weekend trips to Home Depot.