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‘Oracle of Wall Street’ on why the ‘crisis of the American male’ will send home prices crashing 30%: Gaming, loneliness, and not enough single women buyers



Meredith Whitney, the one-time “Oracle of Wall Street” who predicted the Great Financial Crisis, doesn’t mince her words. Young, single men, living at home and playing video games are behind a “crisis of the American male,” she explained in an interview with Fortune.

Her theory about dateless, spiraling young men ends with home prices declining for years, or even decades. Whitney sees home prices falling 30%, but it’s “not the end of the world,” in her mind because of how much prices went up during the pandemic-fueled housing boom. “There’s so much equity stored up in American homes, there’s no collateral damage from that—people then, on paper, are worth less than they thought they were,” Whitney said. “It sounds dramatic, but it’s really not that dramatic just because you’ve had so much massive inflation from the zero interest rate policy.” 

As of last year, almost 40% of American homeowners were mortgage-free, meaning they owned their home outright. Although they’d probably be upset to see their net worth fall that much. On the other hand, those who missed the mark and didn’t buy a home before the run-up in prices during the pandemic, might be happy. But let’s go back to the premise: young men (who are actually only part of the equation, and something she’s discussed before). 

A lot of young men are single, a study from the Pew Research Center found last year. More than 60% of men under 30 described themselves as unattached in a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center; Whitney referred to this analysis in her thinking. The aforementioned study also found the share of single men in the country looking to date or be in a relationship has declined since 2019, which Whitney alluded to, and emphasized that a portion of young, single men “haven’t had sex in the past year and don’t seem to be bothered by it.” More men are living at home with their parents, and for longer too. A 2016 report from the Pew Research Center found young men were more likely to live at home with mom and dad than a partner. 

So where does this all stem from? Mid-2000s video games, in Whitney’s mind. “You have an ability to feel like you’re gaming with a group of friends or community, but you’re really just at home alone,” she said. “And so the socialization of the young American male really started to break down significantly around that time.” According to Whitney, as gaming went up, so did malaise, noting a “despondency and rampant loneliness amongst young men,” in a recent note her advisory group produced. The gaming explosion was driven by technological improvements and the growing popularity of gaming on an iPhone; and it coincided with a poor job market. Combined, these forces have created a cohort of young men who don’t know how to socialize, in her view. “Gaming and social isolation are somewhat of a vicious cycle in which the lack of real social contact creates a sense of social unease, making real social contact much more uncomfortable,” the note states.

Last year, an analysis found that 65% of Americans played video games, and that equated to more than 200 million weekly players, and a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center found that 77% young men play video games—more than any other demographic. She’s said something similar before, only it was about sports betting.

“Unless you’re creating a household, there’s no reason to buy a house,” Whitney said, touching on household formations and birth rates. Before the pandemic, household growth over the previous decade was the lowest ever recorded, per Pew. But another account shows a surge in household growth from 2019 and 2021. 

Still, household formation and demand for housing is only one part of the equation. The other has to do with a “silver tsunami,” a metaphor for an aging population, really baby boomers in the housing world. There are varying estimates and predictions regarding the “silver tsunami,” but it all essentially boils down to more supply. Whitney, toward the end of last year, said 51% of people over the age of 50 are set to downsize to smaller homes, citing an AARP report at a conference. That would bring more than 30 million housing units to the market. Separately, a recent Freddie Mac analysis revealed nine million homes were set to come onto the market in the next decade as baby boomers age, but suggested it wasn’t going to really disrupt the housing world. 

Either way, she sees more supply and not enough demand in the coming years, which’ll culminate in plummeting home prices—essentially our current situation inverted. Presently, we don’t have enough housing to meet demand (one estimate shows we’re actually missing anywhere between roughly two million and seven million homes), and home prices keep escalating because of it. Whitney doesn’t think we have a housing shortage, not on a national scale. If anything, there’s a shortage of affordable housing, and not enough housing where people actually want to live, she explained. Calling our housing crisis a metropolitan crisis might be better, a housing policy analyst once told Fortune

Even so, some research has shown single women are buying homes more than single men, so maybe they’d save the housing universe? Not a chance, Whitney said. “How many single women are going to buy four bedroom, three bath homes?” She then brought up the 5 D’s of real estate: diapers, diamonds, divorce, debt, and death. “Without those…I just don’t think it’s going to be a big enough driver.”

Still, if what she’s predicting comes true, it won’t be another housing crash.

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