Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series, “Living Hawaii,” that examines our high cost of living and what it will take to bring down “the price of paradise.” Sign up for our email newsletter HI-Priced to get stories like these in your inbox, submit your suggestions for what cost-of-living stories we should cover, or join the conversation at our Cost of Living Facebook page.

If you live on Oahu and you’re between the ages of 25 and 34, chances are you live with your parents, aren’t married and have no kids. You probably paid a lot more to go to college than they did and are still paying off debt. 

Even if you live on your own, you’re spending more on rent than they had to when they were your age. And if you feel like there aren’t that many young people here, you’re not imagining it — there are fewer people your age now in Honolulu than there used to be. And, when wages are adjusted for inflation, you probably aren’t making a lot more money than a young adult two decades ago.

Honolulu’s cost of living is challenging for a lot of residents, but it’s especially tough for young adults who are just getting started and trying to build careers.

We looked at data estimates from the 1990 census and the 2017 American Community Survey and came up with 10 charts illustrating trends for Oahu residents between the ages of 25 to 34. We’re calling them millennials for shorthand, even though we know you probably hate that term.

Here’s what we found (monetary values are adjusted for inflation to 2017 dollars):

Even though Honolulu’s population has grown, there are fewer young adults living in the city today than there were in 1990. That mirrors the national trend over the same time period.

Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, thinks that a shrinking military presence may also have something to do with it. Military service members not only tend to be young themselves but often have spouses who are also in their late 20s or early 30s, he said.

Still, the most common job for Oahu millennials in 2017 was the military, something that wasn’t the case in 1990 when managers and administrators took the top spot.

State researcher Eugene Tian says that birth rates, death rates and migration could all affect the percentage of young people in Honolulu. Millennials might be moving to other states not only for cheaper living but also more career opportunities.

High housing costs are nothing new in Hawaii. Bonham recalls 1990 was the end of the Japanese real estate bubble and the market was particularly hot. He remembers looking for a rental that year himself and waiting in line with dozens of others because demand was so high.

That may explain why the median family home price was more than $681,000 in 2017 dollars on Oahu in 1990. In 2000, it plunged below $450,000. It’s managed to go up since then to more than $755,000. That means a buyer would have to save up $151,000 for a 20 percent down payment plus pay $2,883.59 per month for a 30-year mortgage at 4 percent fixed interest excluding taxes and insurance.

No wonder kids aren’t moving out — the rents that young adults are paying have gone up more than 65 percent since 1990.

Multi-generational living has been common in Hawaii for decades, but it appears to be somewhat on the rise. The percentage of people aged 25 to 34 who live with two or more generations has increased slightly from under 67 percent to more than 70 percent.

Surprisingly, Honolulu’s homeownership rate for 25- to 34-year-olds has gone up, counter to national trends. More than 48 percent of millennials lived in a home that was owned rather than rented in Honolulu in 2017 compared to under 41 percent in 1990.

But that figure may be partially explained by the fact that a lot of millennials live with their parents. So they may have answered yes to the question of whether their house is “owned by you or someone in this household.”

The average income for a 25- to 34-year-old, when adjusted for inflation, has stayed flat, even as the cost-of-living has risen significantly. That makes living at home even more attractive if you want to save money.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a higher percentage of young adults in Hawaii are living in poverty than in 1990.

On Oahu, more young people have college degrees now. But the cost of getting that degree is much higher than it used to be. millennials are taking on much more student debt than previous generations.


Juggling expenses may be one reason young adults are delaying marriage and children. More than half of people aged 25 to 34 are single and just 35 percent are married, nearly flipping the statistics from 1990. One national poll found the majority of millennials are in debt and that’s making them delay life events.

More than 65 percent of Hawaii residents aged 25 to 34 have no kids, continuing an upward trend since 1990.

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