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Millennials are driving less than previous generational groups. It's a reality which America is dealing with at the moment, which automakers are trying their best of overcome and which sociologists are apparently studying with increasing intensity. The question is, why?

That's the question which Citylab, a website run by The Atlantic, seeks to answer in this latest piece of analysis. According to the site, there are a number of factors to consider, each of which contributes in its own way to the decline in American driving.

For one thing, Millennials are relocating to city centers where driving is less prevalent. For another, the study finds, white Americans drive more than other ethnicities, and the ethnic diversity of American society is on the rise. Education plays a factor in that more educated adults tend to drive more than those with lower levels of education, as do income levels – and while the Millennial generation may be more educated than those that came before, their income levels have dropped.

Millennials are also living more by themselves, starting families later, getting their driver's licenses later and buying cars later. Environmental factors and the influence of technology also play their part, painting a picture of a wide array of factors spelling bad news for cars and drivers. Head on over to Citylab for the full detailed breakdown.

The only thing everyone agrees on about Millennial driving habits is that they're on the decline. As you'll see in the chart below, every American age group drove less in 2009 than in 2001, but the gaps were strikingly high in the 20- to 40-year-old segments of the population. There's no arguing with these numbers:



1. Place of residence. Cities and suburbs each lay claim on Millennial living preferences, but as both places become more friendly to alternative travel modes, a more telling divide may come between metro and rural areas. The share of 18- to 30-year-olds in cities today is pretty close to what it was for Boomers: 32 to 28 percent, respectively, according to Polzin and company. But for towns and rural areas the share today is 14 percent, compared with 26 percent for Boomers. Given how much more driving occurs in non-metro areas, the shift into metros alone likely explains much of the overall decline.

2. Race/ethnicity. White Americans tend to drive more than other races and ethnicities do. But Millennials appear to be more diverse along these lines than young adults were in previous generations. There were 10 million fewer whites aged 20-to-39 in 2009 than in 1990, according to Polzin's team—a 16 percent change. If that diversity continues to grow, driving habits might continue to drop.

3. Education. Millennials are very well-educated, especially compared with Baby Boomers, and well-educated people tend to drive more than those who aren't. As 20- to 39-year-olds complete their education and enter the work force—assuming they can enter the work force—vehicle mileage among this group might increase. Of course, that also assumes they can pay down their enormous student loan debts and still have money left over for a home or a car.

4. Income. Money is certainly a huge factor in Millennial driving patterns. That's largely because people who make more tend to drive more, and right now Millennials just aren't making very much. What's very striking about the per-capita figures collected by Polzin et al, is that Millennials making a lot of money don't seem to be driving much more than those making very little. The over $100,000 category is the same as the $50-54,000 range, which isn't much higher than the $30-34,000 (i.e. intern) range. That said, the very low end of the scale shows a clear drop-off.

5. Living arrangements. Traditionally, personal driving patterns have been heavily influenced by living arrangements. People who own single-family homes unsurprisingly drive a lot more than people who rent apartments, Millennials included. With lots of Millennials beginning their adult life in their parents' homes—this described about 36 percent of 18- to 31-year-olds in 2012, compared with 32 percent in 1968—where they go next will have a lot to say about how much they drive.

6. Lifecycle delay. People are marrying later in life: between 1970 and 2012, according to Polzin and company, age at marriage increased from about 23 to 29 for men and nearly 21 to 27 for women. Meanwhile, a woman's age at the time she had her first child increased from 21 to nearly 26 over the same period. Yet two-person households drive more than solos do across the board, especially when they have a young child, and these patterns are holding up for Millennials, as the figures below show. The big question is not so much whether the solos in these cohorts will drive more once they start families, but whether they'll start traditional families at all.

7. Licenses. Graduate license programs, paired with many of the economic factors mentioned above, have led to a decline in the share of licensed drivers under age 35—down from 46 percent in 1981 to 30 percent in 2012. Even if these Millennials get a license eventually, the question again becomes whether their non-driving habits will carry over into later years as a lifestyle preference.

8. Car-ownership. Whether or not you have a car has an enormous impact on how much you drive, even among Millennials, as the figures below show. At the same time, many of the economic and life-cycle factors mentioned above will make it either more difficult or less necessary for young people to make that purchase—something that has auto-makers scrambling to figure out a more attractive way to market to Millennials (i.e., the dashboard selfie). If nothing else, write Polzin et al, Millennials seem less infatuated with cars as status symbols than Boomers were.

9. Environmental values. While it's often presumed that Millennials have more respect for the environment than previous generations did, and thus a motivation to find cleaner ways of travel, that's not entirely clear in the population data. Pew surveys have shown that Millennials are actually less likely to consider themselves environmentalists, compared to other age segments. Then again, it's possible to interpret these figures to mean Millennials take environmental awareness as a given that need not be expressed.

10. Technology. It's been said (and challenged) that one reason Millennials don't drive as much is that they connect through technology rather than geography. No one doubts that technology is a native language for Millennials. The problem for transport predictions is that technology can just as easily expand car travel (think: the ease of using Uber to meet up with a friend, or the ease of ordering a delivery) as replace it.

What exactly all these factors will mean for Millennial driving habits is still anyone's guess. The charts show pretty clearly that when Millennials live like previous generations did, they drive like older Americans do. What they can't show is whether young people are merely delaying traditional lifestyles or actively changing them. Economics will certainly have a lot to do with that trajectory, but so will the strength of habits being established early on in life—something that's much harder to quantify. For now, anyone offering more certainty on the situation ahead is likely looking into the numbers and seeing not a clear future projection but their own present beliefs.

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Maybe cars are just totally lacking that X-Factor?

 

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11. Mindset. People who can "travel" via their pads, phones, computers, and other gadgetoys, and develop BFF "friendships" of the electronic variety instead of standard face-to-face interactions (which are much more difficult, time-consuming, and complex), do not develop the mindset that "I have to have a car."

I couldn't wait, for years, until my 16th birthday so I could get my DL. In that era, 99% of peer interactions were face-to-face. We had telephones, we wrote actual paper letters. That was it.

Now kids can "travel" and communicate and develop relationships, of a sort, sitting in the basement or in the school lunch room.

Social skill development takes a hit, hand-eye-foot depth-perception motion-coordination skills take a hit (except for fingers on a keyboard), and the broadening and freedom that is gotten only by actual physical travel, take a hit.

OTOH, people become much easier to monitor, track, and herd. Newer generations are not taught the downside of collectivism and socialism so they think all is well.
 

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Good. Less driving means less traffic.

Hopefully, this will increase investment in mass transit, attracting more people to cities, repeat...
 

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Money money money...moooney!

As a millennial that is the deal. Period. Stagnant wages and high student loan debt have killed us and on top of it we're not forming households as quickly to save cash. I can assure you while we communicate with technology it's not like Tinder and Snapchat have replaced relationships or anything.
I'm not one to advocate government mussing in the private markets, but given their (our) reach into everything including student loans and the little * that student loan debt is the ONE thing not dissolved by declaring bankruptcy, I'd say it's time for some trustbusting or excess profits examination of the "education" industry.

College costs have outpaced inflation and I dare say medical costs over the past two to three decades. For what end? Is the education better? Are grads smarter? Are they earning more, relatively, than their parents did upon graduation?

No, no, no.

Debt is higher. College endowment funds are huge and getting as fat as many Americans. IIRC Harvard's endowment is something like $35 billion. Now what on earth do they need all that money for, as our Great Leader once asked about some other group.

Colleges love to build plant and they love to build endowment funds and they love to build stadiums and arenas and sports teams. WTF that has to do with what SHOULD be their patriotic duty of providing an excellent education, which means teaching rational thought and historic facts and not propagandizing, with the end goal a productive, useful, thoughtful citizen is I dare say not anywhere near the Top 10 of most university goal sheets.

That in itself is a moral crime of the first order. College costs, like the federal budget, could probably be cut by 50% with no harm at all to the institution or the supposed mission.

When coaches consistently make more than college presidents, there is something badly akimbo with your entire institution.
 

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This is something I just can't comprehend. I thought it was human nature, especially for guys, to be excited as hell and look forward to that moment you have your driver's license and then to be able to buy your first car. I'm 37 so I'm not that far detached from millennials. 1993 was the year I got my license.

My Grandfather let me start driving his 1985 Cadillac Eldorado when I was 13. He passed in 2007, and it's one of my most cherished memories of him. I vividly remember the first time I actually got behind the wheel and drove - it was Easter Sunday in 1990, and we were getting ready to go to Mass. The whole family is walking out the door when he hands me the keys and says "back it out and drive us to the corner of the street".... I froze in awe, my Mom and Grandmother are looking at him like he's crazy, and Grandpa had a big smile and patted my back telling me I'm ready.

I still love to drive. I would hope parents today make memories like that with their kids. I know I will.
 

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When I turned 16 in 1987, I bought my first car. A 1976 Ford Mustang II. I paid $150 for it.

You show me where a kid today can get a good deal like that (Inflation adjusted of course) for a first car. You can't. Not something that runs reliably anyway.

Plus, kids are a bit more materialistic today, and wouldn't be caught dead in a POS like that. They think they deserve better. That's an issue too.
 
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I certainly drive much less than I did 20 years ago and can see it continuing to drop annually. There is simply too much traffic today and there really is not much "driving pleasure" any longer. Our 18 year old grand-daughter shows very little interest in getting a driver's license even though she knows how to shift my standard trans Mustang. She will eventually have a license but not sure she will ever buy a car.
 

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I drove more two weeks ago than I drove the two weeks previous to that. Does that make me a millenial?
 

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Millennials also know that if they need to get from Point A to Point B that someone somewhere has a car, so they hitch a ride and don't have to pay the cost of owning, maintaining, and insuring a vehicle. They may be smarter than we initially thought! :p:
 

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When I turned 16 in 1987, I bought my first car. A 1976 Ford Mustang II. I paid $150 for it.

You show me where a kid today can get a good deal like that (Inflation adjusted of course) for a first car. You can't. Not something that runs reliably anyway.

Plus, kids are a bit more materialistic today, and wouldn't be caught dead in a POS like that. They think they deserve better. That's an issue too.
I'd say it is easier than ever - you can buy $500 cars all day long on Craigslist easily, and the inflation-adjusted money is less and the cars are more reliable than a Mustang II could ever hope to be. Anyway what do kids need reliability for, they probably have no job or a minimum wage one and can always ride the bus or bum a lift or parents car.



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11. Mindset. People who can "travel" via their pads, phones, computers, and other gadgetoys, and develop BFF "friendships" of the electronic variety instead of standard face-to-face interactions (which are much more difficult, time-consuming, and complex), do not develop the mindset that "I have to have a car."

I couldn't wait, for years, until my 16th birthday so I could get my DL. In that era, 99% of peer interactions were face-to-face. We had telephones, we wrote actual paper letters. That was it.

Now kids can "travel" and communicate and develop relationships, of a sort, sitting in the basement or in the school lunch room.

Social skill development takes a hit, hand-eye-foot depth-perception motion-coordination skills take a hit (except for fingers on a keyboard), and the broadening and freedom that is gotten only by actual physical travel, take a hit.

OTOH, people become much easier to monitor, track, and herd. Newer generations are not taught the downside of collectivism and socialism so they think all is well.
Good point "Mr. Winston".

Think that as "Millennials" go through "life" they will drive more and many will get the urge to actually visit some of the geographic areas they have been attracted to "on-line" as the kids come along and "disposable income" grows.

It is all just going to be delayed for a time and more Millennials will be finding better paying jobs as many of the "Boomers" retire which is going to create many opportunities in the near future.
 

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I'm not one to advocate government mussing in the private markets, but given their (our) reach into everything including student loans and the little * that student loan debt is the ONE thing not dissolved by declaring bankruptcy, I'd say it's time for some trustbusting or excess profits examination of the "education" industry.

College costs have outpaced inflation and I dare say medical costs over the past two to three decades. For what end? Is the education better? Are grads smarter? Are they earning more, relatively, than their parents did upon graduation?

No, no, no.

Debt is higher. College endowment funds are huge and getting as fat as many Americans. IIRC Harvard's endowment is something like $35 billion. Now what on earth do they need all that money for, as our Great Leader once asked about some other group.

Colleges love to build plant and they love to build endowment funds and they love to build stadiums and arenas and sports teams. WTF that has to do with what SHOULD be their patriotic duty of providing an excellent education, which means teaching rational thought and historic facts and not propagandizing, with the end goal a productive, useful, thoughtful citizen is I dare say not anywhere near the Top 10 of most university goal sheets.

That in itself is a moral crime of the first order. College costs, like the federal budget, could probably be cut by 50% with no harm at all to the institution or the supposed mission.

When coaches consistently make more than college presidents, there is something badly akimbo with your entire institution.
You beat me to it.

College costs are insane.

No reason for them to be as high as they are, education "tools" (educational video, internet, Power Point, iPads, etc.) are much better (and efficient) than when I went to college so where is all the money going?

Sports maybe one area but many College sports pay for themselves, and some colleges do not have Football/Baseball teams that require stadium.

So it comes back to how the money is being managed (mismanaged) and since most colleges rely on some Government money, that bureaucracy "gets into" the college system and you get runaway costs with diminishing quality.
 

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I'd say it is easier than ever - you can buy $500 cars all day long on Craigslist easily, and the inflation-adjusted money is less and the cars are more reliable than a Mustang II could ever hope to be. Anyway what do kids need reliability for, they probably have no job or a minimum wage one and can always ride the bus or bum a lift or parents car.
It was a Mustang II, but at least it was RWD. Could prolly make a decent drift car out of one
 
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