Vass Bednar and Melissa Pogue are millennials who work at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
Last month's historic Canada Pension Plan expansion deal was hailed by The Globe and Mail as a "mission to save Gen Y." Published on the very same day, this month's Toronto Life cover story feels more like a mission to mock it.
The story chronicles the lifestyle-driven decisions of 31-year-old pharmacist Tony, who makes $130,000 a year, lives with his parents in North York and rejects home ownership in order to enjoy "wild, rare, unforgettable experiences." His hedonistic narrative agitated readers, judging by the comments.
It wasn't Tony's ostentatiousness that offended us, though, so much as the suggestion that he is representative of a new and popular young, urban lifestyle trend. Toronto Life's story took an outlier and presented him as a trend.
We took a quick look at publicly available data to determine whether our generation is living at home in order to live large. As it turns out, the suggestion is wildly misplaced.
Of 23 Canadian cities, Toronto has the largest proportion of employed millennials living at home: 18.2 per cent, compared with the national average of 10.2 per cent, with a 60/40 split between men and women. The median salary for full-time workers is $41,200, while part-time employees earned $13,700. Comparatively, millennials who have left the nest earn $50,700 and $14,800 in median wages for full-time and part-time work, respectively. In Toronto, men between the ages of 25 and 39 who still live at home and who make more than $120,000 are in the 99th percentile, making Tony an anomaly. He is literally the 1 per cent.
These millennials, compared with people of the same age who are not living at home, make less money, commute longer and are more likely to be male, unemployed or underemployed, new Canadians or the children of new Canadians.
Perhaps it is the narrative anchor of living at home with one's parents that hits home for Generation Squeeze. Anecdotes rationalizing the humiliation of living with mom and dad as a working adult typically champion the ability to generate wealth more quickly as a conscious trade-off. Yet, Tony says he lives at home in order to spend, rather than to save.
Toronto Life has always been an exciting window into how others experience Canada's largest city – where they live, where they eat, how they party and what their fridge is stocked with. The magazine's recurring Cost of Living segment surveys everyday Torontonians that are making ends meet, illuminating readers to the trade-offs that their friends, colleagues and neighbours make and the financial challenges that they face.
Tony's pleasure in spending his disposable income on luxury dining experiences and global travel with friends is certainly relatable to young professionals. In fact, his admission that he does not want to be living paycheque to paycheque and the recognition that it is preferable for him to rent indefinitely instead of seeking to own property is thoughtful and pragmatic.
But his unique and extravagant lifestyle choices are not our generation's manifesto. The sensational premise that an entire generation is irresponsibly spending with joy is ultimately harmful if it obscures and minimizes the real challenges that define millennials: underemployment, increasingly precarious work, unaffordable housing, expensive childcare, lack of retirement security. Because of factors largely beyond their control, millennials' real defining feature is an inability to save money.
Living longer with your parents can be a smart decision. But the data suggest that Tony's scenario is extremely rare. For the majority of Canadian millennials, living at home is not a consumption-driven choice. They simply can't afford to leave.