Will future generations own anything at all?

to let sign
It's more than just homes which are being rented nowadays
"the growth of home rental over outright ownership is a result of necessity rather than preference"
  • | by Dave Jenkins

The concept of ownership is changing. Things we once deemed essential to own are now being rented, subscribed and streamed.

Stagnant wages, inflation and stern lending regulations have certainly played their part, but there has been a shift towards instant access over outright possession, and choices are being informed by environmental concerns.

There’s been a growth in the ‘sharing economy’, with social sites as such as Ecomodo, Rentmyitems and Shareable encouraging peer-to-peer lending of everyday belongings, from baby-feeding equipment to power tools.

So will 'generation rent' give birth to 'generation own-very-little'? Let's take a look at a few areas where ownership is giving way to rental and find out...


The Office for National Statistics recently revealed homeownership between 2001 and 2011 fell for the first time since 1918. The dip from 69% to 65% might not seem like a lot, but it reinforces the shift feared by those yet to grasp a rung on the property ladder.

Unlike other areas mentioned here, the growth of home rental over outright ownership is a result of necessity rather than preference. Because of demands from mortgage lenders for greater deposits in the aftermath of the banking crisis, many prospective homeowners are missing out. And it may be costing them dear in the long run. Last year, Barclays published a report suggesting that owning a home rather than renting could save you nearly £200,000 over the course of a lifetime.


According to Official Charts Company statistics, audio tracks were streamed over 3.7 billion times in the UK during 2012. Meanwhile, internet and TV streaming services like LoveFilm and Netflix both boast millions of subscribers worldwide.

Faster broadband, 4G data and better technologies such as smart phones and tablets have allowed instant access to endless movies, TV shows, books and music. Music is leading the charge; whether it’s free via platforms such as Soundcloud or YouTube, or subscriptions to sites such as Spotify, almost anything you want to hear (even that rare Dixieland jazz instrumental cover of Shakin’ Stevens) is ready and waiting.

The film and music industries have also been a lot more ready to back streaming than the download model, as it is inherently less open to piracy.

And besides, not even downloading ensured complete ownership; the digital rights on eBooks and many MP3s are still owned by the download service provider – iTunes, for example- which can remove them from your device or player in a flash.


According to the International Parking Institute, our cars are parked 90% of the time. When you consider the rising costs of fuel and car insurance and car loaning or sharing might be an appealing prospect.

Early success in this sector is largely down to the hourly ‘microhire’ rental model. A popular scheme is Zipcar, a subscription-based car-sharing firm.
With a presence in several UK cities, the company has cars dotted around town that are bookable online. There’s also Car Plus, which sells itself on the greener aspect of alternative ownership and the shift towards low emission travel and ride sharing.

Bikes are already well established rental prospects, with London’s ‘Boris bikes’ being the most famous example.


Not all clothes – we can’t see ‘generation rent-their-pants’ catching on any time soon.

Traditionally, renting clothes was reserved for special occasions, but now consumers are renting just to keep the wardrobe fresh. After all, clothes often go the way of whimsical DVD and book purchases… used once and then consigned to the back of a wardrobe, never to be seen again.

Companies such as Wish Want Wear and Girl Meets Dress are picking up steam here in the UK, but US start-ups are pioneering this change in clothing ownership with subscription-based models such as Le Tote offering monthly selection boxes for a monthly fee of $50.

It’s not just a way of looking razor sharp and saving pennies and wardrobe space. The very nature of cheap clothes and poor working conditions are a serious points of discussion right now. If you can’t afford ethically made clothes, renting them might be an option.

Loan rangers: the future

Dig deep and you’ll find you can get almost anything on loan or subscription. From the practical, sensible items that you’ll only need for a specific amount of time (such as garden or DIY tools and children’s clothes) to the outright weird (erm… sex dolls or fully trained pets).

Be it in business or at home, the emphasis of ownership doesn’t seem to be as important for younger generations as it is for those born before the digital age. If this trend continues, it will be even less of an issue for the next generation.

Technology and connectivity have influenced this shift as much as financial necessity. The human longing for ease, simplicity and occasional luxury will always exist, but loaning, renting and sharing these treats may provide a more an affordable and sustainable option.