Home ownership has collapsed for prime working age adults, according to official figures that show those in their mid-30s to mid-40s are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago.
In a reflection of surging house prices and a lost decade for wage growth since the financial crisis, the Office for National Statistics found that a third of 35- to 44-year-olds in England were renting from a private landlord in 2017, compared with fewer than one in 10 in 1997.
The government statistics agency said home ownership had become increasingly concentrated among people over the age of 65. Almost three-quarters of adults in the generation that includes baby boomers born after the second world war own their own homes outright, up from just over half in 1993.
Against a backdrop of rising generational divisions in modern Britain, the ONS linked Margaret Thatcher’s flagship right to buy policy with the boom in home ownership among older Britons, as well as a slump in social housing across the country.
Since the launch of the scheme in 1979, which allowed social housing tenants to buy their homes at reduced prices, the proportion of council properties in Britain has slumped from 33.2% to just 17.6% in 2017.
The findings from the ONS will come with potentially damaging implications for living standards for the current generation of adults under the age of 65, who are poised for a retirement in worse financial health than their parents.
According to research from the insurer Royal London, someone who owns their home outright could expect to maintain their living standards on a pension pot of about £260,000, while someone who rents privately would need almost double this, at about £445,000.
The ONS said that if the declining home ownership trend continued for the current generation of 35- to 44-year-olds, older people in future would be more likely to live in private rented accommodation than today.
It found early signals to suggest the current trajectory could continue, including figures showing that 15.8% of 45- to 54-year-olds rent from private landlords, up from just 5.6% in 1997.
Nathan Long, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, the investments platform, said problems were being stored up for those in their 40s and early 50s.
“Not only were they born too late to benefit from final salary pensions, they were born too early to benefit from a lifetime of automatic pension saving and many won’t be able to call on their house if times get tough,” he added.