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Americans driving less as car culture wanes...


Stashed in: Economics!, Young Americans, Cars!, Awesome, America!, Self-driving Cars, My Cold Dead Fingers

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There are several economic factors that help explain the trends.

Driving declines exactly mirror job losses among men during the recession, when male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction were especially hard hit, researchers said.

But average automobile use has declined recently even among those who have remained employed.

Economists say many Americans, especially teens and young adults, are finding that buying and owning a car stretches their financial resources. The average price of a new car is $31,000, according to the Center for Automotive Research, an industry-aligned organization in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“We’re not selling to everyone. We’re selling to upper-middle class to upper class,” said Sean McAlinden, the center’s chief economist. The rest of the public, he said, buys used cars or takes the bus.

Then there’s the cost of insurance, maintenance and parking. The price of gas has gone up dramatically over the past decade.

The share of younger workers who can find jobs is at an especially low ebb, while the cost of a college education — and with it student loans — is soaring.

“I don’t think it’s a change in people’s preferences. I think it’s all economics,” McAlinden said. “Give a person a good job 25 miles away and they’ll be at the dealership the next morning.”

The first question that comes to mind is whether this is a permanent shift.

Feels like it is a permanent shift.

could be.  car owning is only the status of some. 

Some would rather spend that money on clothing and accessories.

Perhaps this is another hilarious or sad example of decline in journalism.

Let's focus on an obvious answer for a moment... gas is $4 gallon.  Doh! It's amazing that the editors didn't write about the price elasticity of per gallon fuel expense as a primary influence for most drivers, especially given declines in household purchasing power that ensues with all recessions.

And I'm mildly offended the editors instead went fishing around for American cultural malaise as a possible reason, such as the decline in our typically high testosterone levels along with male unemployment.  We can make causal scapegoats out of anything these days ... c'mon, really!?  

Here's some quick and relevant data on American vehicle miles vs gas prices over the past 40 years with recessions noted by the blue bands (from Calculated Risk blog, a great blog for many reasons, especially if you're interested in getting a finger on the pulse of US macro economic trends):

normalized-tmp-5224a37a16a42

Hmmm.  Higher gas prices and... wait for it... declining vehicle miles driven.

And to disclose my personal bias and reasons for umbrage, I've more experienced that the American open road has always been a greater source of personal expression and freedom for strong women than so for the average male (who perhaps takes it for granted), I don't know.  But I can share two examples from among many (n = 10+) with plenty of women friends throughout my life (and confess that most of these likely have more to do with selection bias than cultural trends): 

1) my grandmother was the first woman to buy and ride a motorcycle in Canada and would take trips on her own, nearly scandalous back in the day; 

2) my mom (her daughter) took me on two continental circumnavigations to most all the national parks by car, once at six and again at 14 years of age, packing up the station wagon and hitting the blue highways in near classic American family fashion (but uncharacteristically going it alone as the sole adult until picking her mom up in Canada along the way to Alaska, as my Dad remained home in Miami Beach working the family businesses--she was irrepressible).

I treasure the north American open road and all our blue highways.  And I'd drive to all the national parks again if gas prices were lower, or whenever Tesla finally comes out with his Model X (and hopefully I can still afford one) and gets enough fuel cell stations along the way.  Car culture is alive and well in my family and would be more animated if that damn gasoline (price per mile cost) would come down, or my income go up.

Sometimes the boring, obvious answer is the answer.

Your argument is valid.

Thanks Geege...your stashes are always cool, engaging and thought-provoking!

Thank YOU!  Your observations and commentary are always fn amazing and make me think more deeply about the subject.  I'm sure I'm not alone.

Still relevant 3 years later. :)

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