What Is It About 20-Somethings and Cars?
car-youth

Long a symbol of freedom and independence, the car is becoming less appealing to young people. Photo by Dima Bushkov.

American young adults are driving less, says a recent piece in AdvertisingAge.  Only 77 percent of 19-year-olds today have their license, compared to 92 percent in 1978.  And the proportion of automobile miles driven by people aged 21 to 30 fell five percent in 2009, compared to 2001.

The New York Times recently published a feature story on the distinctive characteristics of people in their 20s — known as a period of “emerging adulthood” — explaining some of the demographic and cultural shifts changing young people’s lives. The article provides many examples of an extended transition into adulthood, as young people spend more time on higher education, lead unsettled lives, and delay major milestones like marriage. Could this explain the downward trend in how 21- to 30-year olds in America use their cars?

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William Draves, author of the book, “Nine Shift,” attributes these changes to digital technology: telecommuting is increasingly more common among young people as the intranet replaces offices; and a generation of new workers increasingly seeks a high level of efficiency.  For example, young people, Draves says, want to effectively utilize their time on trains and light rail by making use of mobile technology.

It’s also increasingly less economical to drive.  According to Research and Innovative Technology Administration data, the cost of operating a car is around $0.56 per mile. The average annual miles driven per driver is 15,000 a year, which makes the cost of owning and operating a car about $8,500 per year.

It seems young people coming of age during these woeful economic times are less likely to sink their money into a vehicle.

Plus, 20-somethings have diverse options like Zipcar and Craigslist – especially if they live in a city – that replace the need for vehicle ownership.  And more people are moving to the city anyway. According to a May 2010 Brookings Institute report, “metro areas are exceeding national averages on population growth.” (Check out our previous post on the Brookings’ report, with a focus on “bright flight“: for the first time, America’s suburbs are more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population, while younger, educated whites move to cities for better jobs and shorter commutes.)

Streetsblog notes that the article in AdAge frames these trends as problem for the automobile industry. And yes, it seems clear that young workers are behaving in ways that demand options for mobility that make economic sense and fit with lifestyle patterns and cultural choices – not something for which the auto industry is known.

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  • Waqar

    Technology and youth are intertwined. By being efficient, young people, can help the elderly age gracefully. The majority of health care cost is used to keep you alive in your last couple of years of life. Why not invest that a little better? By setting it up so that the proper amount of resources is budgeted for the duration of a nice long lifespan, we will inevitably live longer.

    If we can evolve to live efficiently we can re-channel resources to better accommodate longer and richer lives in centuries to come. The four wheeled vehicle is here to stay, but what are we willing to give up for it? Or how much shorter do you want your life to be, for the privilege of driving?

    In order for any technology to succeed it needs to be efficient, and so true efficiency of driving is probably at a lower level, than it was when we has more fossil fuel (back in the day).

    It’s not simply a “choice,” for us to drive less. It’s an adaptation. But it’s nice to think of it as a choice as well. It is still the minority that is choosing not to drive. Pretty soon it will be the majority. More and more, “driver” will be someone’s “profession.”

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  • http://twitter.com/marcosrodrigues marcosrodrigues

    A revolução digital esta’ levando a cultura do carro nos EUA ao declínio? http://t.co/qg0YXqA @cityfix

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/vabike vabike

    “Only 77 percent of 19-year-olds today have their license, compared to 92 percent in 1978.” http://bit.ly/aGB0Oh

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Corey

    I’m so sick of hearing people slobber all over Portland. Just because it’s craftily marketed to white 20-and-30 somethings who’d rather move to a city full of white people than a suburb full of them does not make its culture “European” in the least. Isn’t there something more original for people to write about? Or is that really all there is to this “new urbanist” crowd?

    This comment was originally posted on GC:PVD | Greater City: Providence

  • brick

    Regarding the cars, I hope it is a good sign, but may have more to do with employment (or lack thereof) in 2009.

    This comment was originally posted on GC:PVD | Greater City: Providence

  • http://twitter.com/CalBike CalBike

    Driving is down among 20-somethings http://bit.ly/bokKbW This is why we need better public transit and infrastructure for bikes and walking

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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  • Brendan

    What an excellent piece. I am living proof of the “mobility transition”. I am a graduate student at UC Davis, where you are a minority if you drive your car. That said, the laws against breaking bike laws are quite hefty – $100 for not stopping at a stop sign, and $200 for not biking with a light at night.

  • http://twitter.com/P_Pant P_Pant

    What Is It About 20-Somethings and Cars? http://t.co/0ubpMzm

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/billruns13 billruns13

    “What Is It About 20-Somethings and Cars?”: http://tinyurl.com/26dxztz

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  • http://twitter.com/RobertoRemes RobertoRemes

    Blog The City Fix: What Is It About 20-Somethings and Cars?: American young adults are driving less, says a recent… http://bit.ly/b6Zg0q

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  • http://twitter.com/RandySimes RandySimes

    “Young workers are behaving in ways that demand options for mobility.” – http://bit.ly/bokKbW (via @TheCityFix)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/TheCityFix TheCityFix

    @AdAge says young people in America are driving less. What is it about 20-somethings and cars? http://bit.ly/apJdOR

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