by Dr. Elwood Watson
Remember the days when teenagers couldn’t wait to receive their driver’s license? Indeed, it was privilege, hell, a rite of passage to be afforded the opportunity to get behind the wheel of your parents’ or maybe your own and hear the motor running as you headed down the highway, backroads or wherever your destination took you. Yes, turning 16 was seemed so special in a number of ways.
Things seem to have changed.
A recent report conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicated that a number of millennials (1980 to 1998) are resisting the urge to get behind the wheel. According to the study, 75 percent of people between ages of 20 and 24 had a driver’s license. This was a notable decline from a few years ago in 2011, when the percentage was 79.7 percent, the 82 percent in 2008 and more than three decades ago in 1983, when 91.8 percent of teenagers had obtained a driver’s license. The reasons for this are likely varied.
To put it bluntly, many millennials are carrying considerably debt than their Generation X (1965 to 197) and baby boomer (1946 to 1964) predecessors. They are leaving college (those that are fortunate enough to finish) with crushing amounts of student debt. The claim has been made that many millennials already have mortgaged their future. Moreover, they are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than previous generations. This is likely to be a primary reason why there is a dearth of car ownership among these young men and women. They simply cannot afford to purchase, let alone secure insurance for one.
Secondly, being a largely environmentally conscious group, many in this group likely believe that owning and driving a vehicle is damaging to the larger welfare of the environment and counterproductive to their value system. Combating global warming, embracing green energy development and advocating strict environmental laws are primary concerns for a sizable segment of these men and women.
The fact that a disproportionate percentage of millennials are single and reside in large metropolitan cites where round-the-clock taxis, buses and the subway are abundant and accessible and there is less dependence or need for cars, it would be totally normal for these young people then to gravitate toward public transportation. In fact, in any large urban area, public transportation is likely to be the most economic, efficient and stress-free form of travel. On the contrary, for young adults, rather than being an asset, a vehicle may turn out to be an expensive liability. For those that do drive, the arrival of ride-sharing apps such as Lyft and Uber make it possible for people to locate one another and carpool. This is another way to demonstrate their support for the environment and other socially conscious acumen.
This is undoubtedly unsettling news for the auto industry, as it likely will be expecting the men and women of the post-1980 crowd to be prime and avid automobile consumers. Such a current trend does not bode well. If and when more millennials decide to marry and have families (all indications demonstrate that they are doing so at a slower rate than previous generations), we may very well see this current trend take a U-turn.
Time will tell.