Cohort models provide some evidence for moderate generational effects on travel behavior. All things equal, younger generations appear to travel fewer miles and make fewer trips than previous generations at the same stage in their lives. At the same time, however, younger workers drove alone to work more frequently than similarly aged workers of earlier generations. Millennials travel slightly differently than youth did in the past, but not in a way that abandons personal vehicles.
Do millennials substitute technology for travel?
From the early days of “telecommuting,” planners have speculated that easy access to information and communication technologies would reduce travel, with online communication, entertainment, and shopping replacing trips outside the home. Why travel to see a friend or client, the theory goes, when you can simply FaceTime with them instead?
However, scholars have generally found that these technologies serve as a modest complement to, rather than a substitute for, travel. It may be that being online provides so much information about and access to opportunities that it encourages as many or more new trips than it replaces.
Today’s youth could be a special case. They are the first generation to have never known a world without instantaneous and nearly ubiquitous mobile device access. They also tend to be early adopters of new technologies. Yet despite the staggering increase in mobile device and web access and use, the effects of information and communication technologies on travel (albeit using imperfect measures available in the travel surveys) were small and tended to be associated with more and not less travel.
Do millennials travel less due to increasingly stringent state driver’s licensing regulations?
The short answers are “yes” and “no.” To improve teen driver safety, most states have adopted graduated driver’s license (GDL) regulations that typically include a permit phase with adult supervision, an intermediate phase with restrictions on driving at night and/or with other young passengers, and finally an unrestricted permit phase. Such regulations may restrict teen mobility if they discourage teenagers from becoming drivers or if the nighttime and passenger restrictions limit their travel.
The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has developed a point system for ranking GDL programs from low to high levels of stringency, which allowed us to examine states’ uneven transitions from few or no GDL regulations in the early 1990s to universal and mostly strict graduated driver’s licensing by the late 2000s.
Examining the stringency rankings over time, we found lower proportions of teen drivers in states with stricter regulations, as we expected. In 2009, 81 percent of teens in states with the least stringent license requirements were drivers, compared to just 68 percent in states with more stringent requirements. As a result, youth are now more likely to obtain driver’s licenses in their late teens and early 20s, instead of starting to drive as early as they are allowed. While 16- and 17-year-olds now drive less, nearly all youth eventually get driver’s licenses as they age and then travel about as much as similarly situated people from earlier generations. Thus, we find that the overall effect of changes in driver’s licensing regulations on travel was surprisingly small.
Do delayed transitions to adulthood affect millennial travel?
As people age and assume adult responsibilities such as living on their own or having children, their travel tends to increase. But millennials have been taking longer to establish independent lives than youth of previous generations, a trend that accelerated during the Great Recession. For example, young adults struggling to find work increasingly “boomerang” back home to live with parents after having lived independently, in order to take advantage of free or steeply discounted rent, groceries, and car access. Millennials also spend more time in school, contributing to delayed household and employment transitions. These delayed transitions to adulthood may postpone car ownership, and result in fewer work and household-supporting trips and less personal travel.
Our data allowed us to determine whether young adults live with at least one parent. Unfortunately this measure does not directly measure the “boomerang” concept, but we observed a substantial increase in the share of people aged 19 to 26 living with their parents in the 2000s — from 33 percent in 1990 to 58 percent in 2009. The share of 19-to-26-year-olds in school also increased from 14 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2009. But despite these sizeable changes in adulthood transitions, we did not find a statistically significant relationship between youth travel and living with one’s parents or being in school.
Are millennials moving back to the city?
The cultural narrative around millennials casts them as less enamored of the suburban, car-oriented lifestyles their parents favor. Instead of space for kids, a yard, and a two-car garage, the latest generation of young adults is thought to prefer lively cities where they can get around more easily on foot, by bike, and on public transit.
Indeed, data show that millennials are more likely to live in dense, walkable urban areas than older adults. To test this, we classified the characteristics of the built environment and transportation infrastructure of nearly all U.S. neighborhoods into one of seven types:
While a higher percentage of youth than adults live in neighborhoods that tend to be found in cities — Urban Residential, Old Urban, and Mixed Use — more than half of all youth live in the three suburban neighborhood types, suggesting that the suburbs are far from dead to millennials. Travel differences across the seven neighborhood types are surprisingly small, with one exception.
Residents in dense, transit-rich Old Urban neighborhoods tend to travel very differently: they make fewer trips, travel fewer miles, have lower rates of automobile ownership and licensing, are less likely to drive alone, and are much more likely to walk and take transit than are the residents of any other neighborhood type. The catch is that very few places are this dense and transit rich. Old Urban neighborhoods account for just 4 percent of U.S. neighborhoods, the vast majority of which are found in New York, Los Angeles, and a few other very large cities. Just 6 percent of all Americans aged 20 to 34 live in Old Urban neighborhoods.