No, Bachelor Parties Are Not Why Millennials Can't Afford Houses

A misleading "Today" show headline has inspired a backlash.
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“Study: Bachelor, bachelorette parties are why millennials can’t afford houses,” reads a bold headline that appeared on the “Today” show’s website Thursday.

Then, below: “Are bachelorette parties the new avocado toast?”

Avocado toast, you’ll recall, was previously named the culprit of the millennial generation’s financial woes after Australian multimillionaire Tim Gurner made a snide comment about the trendy brunch item more than a year ago. Younger people just spend too much on things like avocados and pricey coffee to save for a house, he said. Gurner cited no research ― he was merely opining ― and he was roundly mocked for doing so.

Surely no single consumer good is to blame for an entire generation’s struggle to afford real estate.

In her article this week, however, “Today” writer Chrissy Callahan reiterated Gurner’s comments as she introduced a report compiled by Zillow, the real estate website.

Zillow’s so-called study “suggests that lavish pre-wedding bashes might also be the real culprit hindering those homeowner dreams,” Callahan writes.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the “Today” story has also been roundly mocked. According to experts, the reasons that millennials have been sluggish to jump into the housing market are complex, rooted in broad nationwide trends that often make saving for a down payment difficult. Some people are choosing to get married and settle down later too.

Beyond the silly idea that “pre-wedding bashes” might be “the real culprit” behind such a deeply troubling economic problem ― er, along with avocados ― the Zillow report is a bit flimsy.

The impetus for it, apparently, was this: “To help first-time buyers, Zillow calculated how much cash is needed for a 20 percent down payment on a home, and how much of it may instead be going toward bachelor or bachelorette parties.”

A key word there is “may.” Zillow pulled numbers from a 2016 survey by wedding planning site The Knot, which asked 1,000 people who went to a wedding in the previous three years how much they spent. The statistic at the crux of Zillow’s report ― destination bachelor and bachelorette parties cost an average of $1,532 or $1,106 respectively ― appears in a July 2017 press release promoting the survey.

Yet Zillow does not explain why it chose destination bachelor and bachelorette parties ― instead of any other trend associated with millennials ― to illustrate how young people might be misspending their money. (Might we also be out-of-control consumers of expensive smartphones and video games?)

“Yes, if your friends’ bachelorette parties always involve airline tickets and a hotel room, and if you choose to attend nine such events, you will have spent quite a bit of money.”

Zillow similarly does not explain where it got a crucial number.

The report sets up a scenario where “the average person attends nine destination parties in a lifetime,” citing no research. Why nine? Why not eight? Why not 10?

Puzzlingly, that figure is used to calculate the impact on a middle-of-the-road down payment.

Callahan writes: “The study found that attending nine destination bachelorette parties in your lifetime can set you back upwards of $13,788. In other words, you could spend up to 35 percent of a down payment on a median-price home (in certain areas of the country) celebrating a friend’s nuptials.”

So, yes, if your friends’ bachelorette parties always involve airline tickets and a hotel room, and if you choose to attend nine such events, you will have spent quite a bit of money. But neither Zillow nor “Today” offers evidence that millennials are actually doing this en masse. Not even The Knot said expensive destination parties are a verifiable trend affecting millennials’ finances ― it just calculated the average amount spent by people who went on such a trip among those polled.

In an exhaustively reported piece, HuffPost Highline reporter Michael Hobbes took a look at millennials’ financial future, finding it to be “the scariest ... of any generation since the Great Depression.”

The reality of the situation is much more complex: Millennials live in a world with stagnant salaries and uncertain job prospects where they’re often strapped by student loans and must at times settle to work for companies that don’t value employee benefits as they once did.

“What we are living through now ... is a historic convergence of economic maladies, many of them decades in the making,” Hobbes wrote.

So, no, as much as we might like to find one simple culprit, bachelor and bachelorette parties are not why millennials can’t afford houses.

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