Professor Andrew Beer of the School of Geography, Population and Environmental says that the expectations of 21st century home-owners differ markedly from earlier generations. His conclusions are made in a conference paper entitled Households and their housing: the key drivers.
Along with changes to patterns of family life and the ageing of the population, Professor Beer said changing attitudes to houses and home ownership are profoundly altering the housing market.
"For many Australians, a house is no longer seen just as a place to live and raise a family - we're seeing housing in terms of defining ourselves by the consumption decisions that we make," Professor Beer said.
"You only have to look at recent housing developments and the redevelopment of older suburbs that include architectural and design elements to see a shift from the attitudes of 20 or 30 years ago."
A period of extended prosperity is multiplying the effect.
"Because 15 years of economic growth has made us wealthier, we can afford more. And because we are having fewer children we can spend more money on this form of consumption," Professor Beer said.
Social change, particularly in the form of divorce, is another factor that is acting to change housing consumption habits. Middle-aged Australians are often affected during a period of life that was previously considered stable in terms of home-ownership.
"Only 54 per cent of marriages last for 30 years, and 24 per cent of all children are being raised in single parent families," Professor Beer said.
"Often both parents have to provide accommodation for the children, drastically altering family finances and doubling the demand on the housing stock."
But it is the ageing population, Professor Beer said, which is the biggest potential force for change in the housing market. The so-called baby boomers, who are preponderant in the population, are set to play a key role.
As the baby boomer generation approach retirement, Professor Beer said, they are looking for new forms of housing.
"If you look at the Australian housing market, and particularly South Australia, which has the oldest population of the States, it's the retirement village and older persons' living accommodation options which are growing most rapidly and are the most profitable sector," he said.
The earlier generations of Australians who had experienced war and economic depression were modest in their demands, Professor Beer said.
"They were used to tough times and they were used to being frugal, and they had an expectation of a relatively modest retirement after their working life," he said.
"The baby boomer generation has always changed the rules and they've always had relatively high consumption patterns. When they hit old age, they are going to change our ideas of what old age can be."
Professor Beer said that as well as living longer, Australians are now healthier and more active as they age.
"We only have to look at advertising for retirement village estates and equivalent forms of accommodation to see that private providers are tapping into this; the images are all about being active and enjoying life - golf, surfing and the like."
For those contemplating entry into the housing market, however, the picture is not so rosy.
"Young people have to make very difficult decisions if they are aspiring to home ownership, particularly in cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane where housing has become very expensive," Professor Beer said.
"Many younger working-age people face the prospect of either never entering home ownership, or having to leave the big cities where the employment opportunities are to get into home ownership."
"There is good evidence to show that whereas we used to enter home ownership between the ages of 25 and 34, we now enter between 34 and 39, and that makes a huge difference to your life course and your ability to save for retirement."
Professor Beer said other factors, such as the increase of casual and short-term employment, may also limit or prohibit home-buying options for many Australians.
"There is a need for both government and private providers to appreciate the changing market in order to meet future housing needs. We are witnessing profound changes which represent, in effect, a transformation."