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Is Buying Cars Less Important To Millennials Than Past Generations?

Asian car driver woman smiling showing new car keys and car. Mixed-race Asian and Caucasian girl.

The habits of the youth generation have always been met with equal parts fascination and derision from their parents. Millennial tendencies are no different. Why are we not buying cars or houses? Why are we still living with our parents? Why are millennials having such a hard time adjusting to adulthood?

Growing up more slowly?

Young people are delaying traditional rites of passage, most commonly for economic reasons. An article in the New York Post questioning why people aged 20-24 aren’t getting their driver’s license attempts to blame parents. They claim that new parenting methods allow kids to get what they demand, from privacy to free rides around town. The same article states that the number of 20- to 24-year-olds with driver’s licenses has decreased from 91.8 percent in 1983 to 76.7 percent in 2014. Are parents really to blame?

The answer is probably no. Buying cars costs money. When you factor in the costs of insurance payments, gas, maintenance and the price of purchasing the car itself, it becomes clear that many 20-somethings delay buying a car simply because they don’t have enough money. Instead, they’ll opt to get a ride from a friend, take advantage of public transit, use a ride-sharing app, or ride a bike (millennials are environmentally conscious, remember?)

Shifting away from car culture

An NPR segment provides more detail, in which Paul Eisenstein of surmises that last century’s “driving boom” is over, and the U.S. is transitioning to a culture less focused on cars. Even car manufacturers are taking note and allocating resources accordingly; emerging markets such as China are now bigger players in the automobile market than the U.S.

There’s also the matter of student loans. A recent survey shows that 56 percent of those from age 18 to 29 “have put off major life events like getting married, purchasing a car or home, or saving for retirement” because of outstanding debt. Millennials have lower credit scores than the national average and all previous generations. Rising tuition costs, more extreme than past generations ever experienced, are likely to blame for this. So how do young people offset these costs? By not buying cars, apparently.


Between rising rates of student debt and a recent shift to living in more populous urban centers, some millennials may find it preferable (and more practical) to delay car ownership — especially since buying cars is not quite the status symbol it once was. Yes, these days it’s also less stigmatized to delay traditional adulthood, but there’s a real possibility that millennial expressions of adulthood may not emphasize car ownership to the same degree in the future. Older generations will continue to worry, but despite how new trends may appear to them, the millennial generation is doing fine. We are merely doing our best to change our outlook and adapt to the times.

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Header image: Adobe Stock

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