Shifting Demographics: In The U.S., More Women Drive Than Men

November 14, 2012

As we saw during last week's election, the demographics of the U.S. are changing. Older white men -- once the country's key voting block -- make up an increasingly small percentage of the electorate, while African Americans, Latinos, and women are gaining ground.

A similar demographic shift is taking shape on the roadways. According to a new study from Michael Sivak and colleague Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, older men (of all races and ethnicities) are less likely than women to drive after age 45 -- and the gender gap could get much wider.

UMTRI study

The Washington Post reports that Sivak and Schoettle reviewed 15 years' worth of U.S. driver's licence statistics, from 1995 to 2010. In 1995, 89.2 million men held licences, compared to 87.4 million American women. Men held their lead over women in every age group until age 70, when the trend flipped, perhaps in part to women's longer life-expectancies.

But life-expectancy alone can't account for the shift that researchers are seeing today. Although younger men are still more likely to have a driver's licence than younger women, the trend does reverse -- only this time, the flip happens not at 70, but at age 45. In 2010, 105.7 million American women had driver's licenses, versus 104.3 million men.

And guys aren't going to be catching up anytime soon. As we've often discussed, the number of younger Americans with driver's licences is declining thanks to graduated licencing, the cost of car ownership, and broader issues like social networking, which has reduced the need for face-to-face interaction.

As a result, the number of young women (age 25 - 29) with driver's licenses dropped 4.7% between 1995 and 2010. However, the number of young men with licenses fell twice that amount -- 10.6%. Only time will tell if men will pick up the slack as they get older. 

What does it mean?

This data could have a direct impact on the cars we drive tomorrow. Sivak tells Auto News that women tend to prefer smaller, safer rides with greater fuel efficiency. That could make small cars an even hotter property than they are today.

Also, as Sivak points out, women tend to be involved in fewer traffic fatalities. That sets the stage for an even lower fatality rate in the U.S., and potentially lower insurance premiums. (Well, maybe.)

Guys, are you giving up on cars? Gals, what changes would you like to see in the auto industry? Weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment below.

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