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Today's young adults face serious challenges in the form of high and rising tuition fees, a tough job market and high housing prices. But are they worse off than previous generations? In a column written several months back, Globe and Mail personal finance columnist Rob Carrick laid out a case that today's students have it worse than he did when he graduated back in 1984. To see where you stand in relation to the young adults of today, try our interactive Who Had It Worse Time Machine.

Read the related column

All data is adjusted for inflation and presented in 2010 dollars. Limited availability of historical data means we can only go back as far as 1976.

Who Had It Worse
Time Machine

Use this tool to travel back in time to your graduating year and compare the financial situation against the graduating class of 1976. Who had it worse? Tell us your story in the comments.
Click and drag to your graduating year

You had it the same as 1976


The graphic on the right shows how you compare to the graduating class of 1976. Your year is in blue. A tall, narrow blob is the best scenario: higher income with lower costs elsewhere. But today's graduating class has exactly the opposite: lower income with higher tuition, loans and housing prices.

IncomeYou had it worse
Housing priceYou had it worse
TuitionYou had it worse
Student loansYou had it worse
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Income Total median income for people 20-24 in 2010 constant dollars. (Other age groups also included on the right.)<Br />Source: Statistics Canada

This chart shows total median income for young adults in constant 2010 dollars. This is a way of comparing the purchasing power in previous years to 2010, which is the most recent year for which Statistics Canada has data.

Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 have significantly less purchasing power today than they did 30 years ago. Part of the explanation is that more young people are going to college and university and thus not generating significant earnings. Other explanations include declining wage growth and comparatively high youth unemployment.

Housing and mortgages Canada-wide average housing price, constant 2010 dollars, and five-year interest rates for mortgages, averaged per year. <Br />Sources: Canadian Real Estate Association and the Bank of Canada

House prices have soared since the late 1990s. Today, first-time home buyers must save more for down payments and take on larger mortgages. Here, the average house price is plotted against the average yearly interest rate for five-year mortgages. These declining mortgage rates have helped with affordability.

Unemployment Unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds.<Br />Source: Statistics Canada

The jobless rate for 15- to 24-year-olds is shown here. A higher unemployment rate means worse employment prospects, particularly for young people just graduating from post-secondary programs.

Historically, the unemployment rate has risen and fallen in a cyclical pattern. We're not at the highs seen in past recessions, but the trend looks negative.

Tuition Weighted average tuition cost, constant 2010 dollars.<Br />Source: Statistics Canada

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show post-secondary tuition costs rose by 5 per cent on a year-over-year basis, while the consumer price index — a basket of everyday goods and services — rose by 1.3 per cent. Tuition fees have been rising steeply for more than two decades. If you were a student in the 1980s or earlier, you were fortunate.

Canada Student Loans Average Canada Student Loans, constant 2010 dollars, participating provinces (does not include Quebec, NWT or Nunavut).<Br />Source: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada

This chart shows the average amount borrowed each year by full-time students through the government student loan program, as opposed to student lines of credit offered by banks. As tuitions rise, students must borrow more.


We expect tuition costs, student borrowing and housing costs to go up over time. That's natural. The surprise here is the way in which the purchasing power of young adults has shrunk. All these factors together suggest today's young adults have it worse.

Sources: Statistics Canada, the Canadian Real Estate Association, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Bank of Canada
Illustration by MURAT YUKSELIR