The University of Newcastle, Australia

Loans, housing and young people

Dr Julia Cook is a youth sociologist whose research is revealing how housing and family finance impacts the lives of young people.

Dr Julia Cook

Dr Julia Cook is passionate about amplifying the voices of young people through her research. Her qualitative and mixed methods research allows her to convey young people’s experiences to the world, highlighting issues and areas where policy changes are needed, particularly in regard to housing, loans and family assistance.

Her work is producing impactful results with immediate implications for the creation of policies that are fit for purpose. She is the chief investigator on a project funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education which seeks to understand the housing experiences of undergraduate regional and remote students living away from the family home.

“Lately we are seeing reports recommending funding for purpose-built student accommodation on campus as a means of trying to increase university participation among regional and remote students,” Julia said. “However, there isn’t much evidence around the impact purpose-built on-campus housing has on this group compared to, for instance, living in the private rental sector. This project fills that gap in the literature.”

The project has surveyed 550 regional and remote university students who have relocated for their studies to see how their housing has impacted their experience of university.

“The aim of the project is to develop an evidence base that can feed into policy that is fit for purpose and recommendations that target the resources available for housing for regional and remote students into outcomes that are equitable and beneficial.”

“The project investigates the impact of different living arrangements on the student’s studies. Do those who are in purpose-built student accommodation fare better than those renting elsewhere? What challenges are presented in both those scenarios? Are any negative experiences caused or mediated by working part time? We want to understand some of the determinants of positive experiences at university and find evidence to see what students actually need and what will have a positive impact so we know where resources are best targeted,” Julia said.

Understanding intergenerational loans

In 2019 Julia was awarded a prestigious international research fellowship with the University of Birmingham’s Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM), where she furthered her research into the impact of intergenerational financial transfers to enable entry into the property market.

“I have also researched this topic in Australia and had some data on the prevalence of intergenerational loans but wanted to know more about the mechanisms behind how this happens,” Julia said.

Parents lending their children money to buy a house seems a straight forward transaction, but Julia is interested in the micro-social factors that make that possible.

“I enjoy engaging with participants in interviews and going into homes and talking to them about how this happens. I’m interested in the social norms that underpin these larger financial gifts.”

“The aim of this project is to try and understand the mechanisms through which intergenerational advantage and disadvantage are produced. Passing on money to buy a house is a direct way that home ownership is reproduced. We know if your parents are home owners, you’re more likely to be a home owner – that is the reproduction of advantage. In order to understand the wider agenda of disadvantage it’s necessary to understand the mechanisms through which advantage is reproduced.”

Regional youth and work, wellbeing and debt

Julia is also part of a project called ‘Regional youth in precarious times – work wellbeing and debt’ that aims to understand the debt and employment nexus for young people in the Hunter region. The project will begin with a policy analysis around debt and young people. Secondly, the project team will interview young people in the Hunter region to hear about their lived experiences with unsecured debt. Then they will use creative research methods, such as body mapping in workshops, to endeavour to further clarify young people’s relationship between debt, employment and wellbeing. The final step of the project will be to create a digital map of the various financial lenders in the Hunter with categories of lenders and the types of loans they offer.

“We’ll overlay this information on the map meaning we’ll be able to see the income of specific suburb and youth unemployment while also seeing the type of lenders in the area,” Julia said.

“With this information we are aiming to put together an intervention to make the financial aspects of life better for young people in the Hunter. We are partnering with the Greater Bank Financial Literacy Laboratory who are running financial literacy programs in secondary schools. The findings from our project will feed into those financial literacy programs as well as inform evidence-based policies.”