Today's young adults are up to 50-percent more likely to avoid driving than past generations

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Everyone knows that young adults are staying in school longer, delaying marriage, and struggling to find steady work.

As a result, they are driving less than their fellow young adults did a generation ago.


A new study from University of North Carolina professor Noreen McDonald shows the extent of this phenomenon.


The question is why this is occurring.

In her analysis, the "lifestyle" changes seen among today's young adults compared with other generations' young adults — staying in school longer, avoiding (or struggling to find steady) employment, delaying marriage — account for only 10-25 percent of this decline.

Meanwhile, "the general dampening of travel demand" that occurred across all age groups during the period has accounted for the remaining 40 percent, she writes.

That leaves "Millennial-specific factors," such as changing attitudes and use of virtual mobility (online shopping, social media) explain up to 50 percent of the drop in driving, she says.


Here's the chart:


McDonald says that as young adults do find steadier work and form households, driving will increase. We already have some data showing this — young adults are now buying cars at a faster clip than any other generation.

But even if they do  buying cars, they're doing less driving overall. McDonald finds that miles traveled by auto for personal business decreased 45 percent among 19-to 24-year-olds, 30 percent for 25-to-30-year-olds, and 25 percent for 31-to-36-year-olds.


"The larger declines experienced by younger age groups reflect patterns specific to Millennials and younger members of Gen X and could be caused by changing attitudes toward mobility among younger Americans as well as differential substitution of online for physical interaction among digital natives," she writes.

Basically: the smartphone is the new car.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.