Millennials and Their Transportation Choices: Are They All That Different From Other Cohorts?


Much attention has been paid in the academic and public literature to the Millennial generation (those born following Generation X and between the early 1980s and the early 2000s), arguing that Millennials are different than older generations: they have grown up in a digital world exemplified by rapid change giving them a set of priorities and expectations different from previous generations. Millennials tend to be more diverse in their spending and consumer habits and have different preferences and attitudes toward work and leisure as compared to older generations. Millennials are also faced with lower incomes, a more tentative hold on the labor market, higher debt, and are more likely to continue to live at home with their parents. Millennials are often more reluctant to buy cars and other large ticket items, and instead participate more in the ‘sharing economy’ built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources (see, for example, the study by Goldman Sachs, 2016).

Although the literature has suggested that Millennials may be less likely to drive and more likely to take public transit or engage in active transportation such as biking as compared to older generations such as Generation X and Baby Boomers, and that their lack of interest in car ownership and driving represents a sea-change in attitudes toward travel behavior, recent work by myself and a colleague (Newbold and Scott 2017) demonstrated a clear increase in the proportion of Millennials holding a driver’s license and that Millennials were just as likely to hold a driving license (controlling for age) as Generation Xers. Over time, we also saw a decreasing proportion of trips made by Millennials using public or active transit modes, and a growing share of trips made in the personal automobile.

More broadly, the analysis suggests that the travel behavior of Millennials may simply be ‘catching up’ with older cohorts: As they age, build their career, start families, and have other demands placed upon them, they will likely continue to move toward the personal automobile as their preferred travel mode. Ultimately, Millennials may share the same transportation profile as older generations.

Of course, further work remains to be done, including looking at the longer-term trends in the transportation behavior of Millennials, as well as other aspects about how Millennials are different (or ultimately the same) from other cohorts. Additionally, patterns or outcomes may be different in other countries – what happens in Canada isn’t necessarily universal. But, the results are intriguing.

Further Reading:

Dutzik T, and Inglis J. 2014. Millennials in Motion Changing Travel Habits of Young Americans and the Implications for Public Policy. USPIRG and Frontier Group.

Goldman Sachs. 2016. Millennials: Coming of Age

Newbold KB and Scott DM. 2017. Driving Over the Life Course: The Automobility of Canada’s Millennial, Generation X, Baby Boomer and Greatest Generation. Travel Behaviour and Society, 6: 57-63 DOI: 10.1016/j.tbs.2016.06.003


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