Millennials aren’t driving as much as previous generations

Person driving car

By Saumya Jain

The consumption choices and lifestyle preferences of Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—and their differences from those of the previous generations have repeatedly piqued academic and policy makers’ interests. Although some suggest they might just be slower in adopting previous trends, a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that they are a generation that prefers to drive about 8-9 percent less than Generation X and Baby Boomers, and that they might continue to drive less as they get older.

The study used data from eight U.S. national travel surveys to compare driving behaviors across continuous age groups for Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Researchers analyzed daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by an average person from each generation and age group. The study found that Millennials aged twenty and over have kept their VMT consistently lower than Generation X—by approximately 3 miles per day, or 8 percent less—and older Millennials (age 28 and more) drive around 3.5 miles, or 9 percent less, than Baby Boomers. Another study from 2020 that interviewed more than two thousand participants across age groups to understand their daily travel habits showed similar results.

The UT-Austin study also notes that the peak level of VMT for each successive generation occurred at an earlier age than the previous. Baby Boomers reached their highest levels of VMT in their forties, while Generation X drove the most in their mid-thirties. Millennials, on the contrary, drove the most in their early to late twenties and have not driven as much since. Baby Boomers also show a significant decrease in driving in later years.

Millennials are generally seen as the more socially conscious, pro-environment generation with more sustainable consumption trends than previous generational cohorts. Understanding their behavior and preferences is crucial to both public services and private businesses as they are the largest share of the country’s population and will soon be the predominant consumers, along with Generation Z.

While COVID-19 has disrupted nearly everything, including our driving habits, advocates are calling for policy makers to capitalize while they can on these shifting trends of reduced car-dependency and pro-environment choices. Although limited traveling and telecommuting due to the pandemic caused a dent in auto sales, they are slowly going back to pre-pandemic levels. Another factor that could affect these trends is Millennials’ recent interest in and ability to purchase homes. Millennials also exhibit an affinity for ridesharing and transit use over car ownership. These current consumer trends suggest an opportunity for planners and policy makers to advance shared-use mobility paradigms.

Photo credit: Peter Fazekas on Pexels, unmodified. License