Up to half of the millennial generation could still be renting in their 40s and a third could be "retiree renters", a report warns.
Radical reform is needed to make the private rental sector fit for raising children and retirement "because a generation of young people face the prospect of never owning their own home," The Resolution Foundation has found.
The Foundation found that if Britain continues the "weak pattern" of home ownership growth, up to half of millennials born between 1981 and 2000 could be renting either privately or in the social rented sector in their 40s, and a third could still be renting by the time they claim their pensions.
Private renting has grown rapidly in recent decades and policy has failed to catch up with the fact that bringing up children in the private rental sector has become mainstream.
At age 30, four in 10 millennials rent privately, double the rate at the same age for generation X - the generation above millennials - and four times that for baby boomers born in the 20 years after the end of the Second World War.
A record 1.8 million families with children rent privately, up from just 600,000 15 years ago, the report said.
The Foundation said that a "rising share of retiree renters, coupled with an ageing population, could more than double the housing benefit bill for pensioners from £6.3 billion today to £16 billion by 2060 - highlighting how everyone ultimately pays for failing to tackle Britain's housing crisis".
A senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation explained that Britain is in a "full-blown crisis" and told how many "face the prospect of renting cradle to grave".
Lindsay Judge said: "If we want to tackle Britain's 'here and now' housing crisis we have to improve conditions for the millions of families living in private rented accommodation."
She added: "That means raising standards and reducing the risks associating with renting through tenancy reform and light touch rent stabilisation."
To keep rents stable, rent rises should be limited to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation over three-year periods, the report said.
It also said that there must be a "fair balancing of the needs of tenants with the rights of landlords", and landlords should not be able to end tenancies at short notice without good cause.
A new housing tribunal should be set up, to ensure landlords and tenants can have disputes resolved swiftly, the Foundation argued.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: "Our Help to Buy scheme and the recent cut in stamp duty are helping more young first-time buyers get on the property ladder.
"Figures show that we are seeing the highest number of first-time buyers for more than a decade," she said.
She added: "But we're also helping to ensure that everyone has a safe and decent home by giving councils stronger powers to crack down on bad landlords and consulting on stronger protections for tenants themselves."