By on June 1, 2010

A lot has changed since 1978… and not all of it for the better. One undeniable trend: young folks just aren’t that into the cars anymore. Automotive News [sub] takes on this, the greatest challenge facing automotive marketers in a lengthy piece that asks

Is digital revolution driving decline in U.S. car culture?

The implicit answer: yes. As a member of the generation that will doubtless be blamed for the decline of the auto industry for decades to come, I think the root causes of Millennial carlessness are a bit more complicated than mere progress in digital technology. And though the causes may be complex, the reality couldn’t be more clear. Want to know how this dynamic plays out? Take a look at Japan. If the car industry doesn’t find a way to re-associate its products with more positive connotations than debt, traffic, commuting and pollution, it’s going to face an increasingly tough slog as the Millennial generation comes into its own.

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80 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Kids Aren’t Alright Edition...”

  • avatar

    Have some states increased the minimum driving age?

    At any rate, should mean safer roads.

    • 0 avatar


      Perhaps safer in the short run but eventually many of these kids will get licensed and the biggest determinate of accident rate is experience not age. Teenage drivers have more accidents because they have less time behind wheel not just becuase they are irresponsible. When the kid gets his license at 23 he will be just about as dangerous as he would have been at 16 or 17. He will only be marginally more mature and can legally drink.

    • 0 avatar


      Citation please.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the assertion sounds reasonable. If you’ve never e.g. played basketball, it doesn’t matter if you’re 12, 20 or 30–you’re still going to suck at it at first. Why would driving be any different?

    • 0 avatar

      Assert away, but without a citation it doesn’t make it so.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, you’re right, and you’re certainly free to accept nothing without a citation.

  • avatar

    It would be interesting to compare these numbers to the percentage of teenagers holding a job. I cannot vouch for ’78, but the percentage of teenagers holding a job is visibly lower now than, say, in ’98. The number of grown-ups and older folks holding traditionally teenagers’ jobs is depressing. At least to me.

    • 0 avatar

      the percentage of teenagers holding a job is visibly lower now than, say, in ‘98. The number of grown-ups and older folks holding traditionally teenagers’ jobs is depressing. At least to me.

      Part of this has to do with the fact that if you don’t to end up as one of those older folks doing a teenagers’ job, you need a good education. You can’t get into the Stanford C/S program by spending all your spare time working at McDonalds to pay the insurance on your IROC – you need to spend all your spare time studying.

    • 0 avatar

      @ jmo
      sorry to break it to you, but getting a college education doesn’t guarantee a job. and getting a college education funded by loans guarantees you debt. The truth is not all people are the college-scholarly type, most people quit after freshman year. Some people still need to be mechanics, plumbers construction workers. Saying that college is a route to a debt-free high-income life is a lie, that will lead to many empty pockets and broken hearts.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, I didn’t see jmo state, or imply, that a college education was any guarantee of a job. He does say that having a college education is a necessary condition for a well-paying job (which it practically is), but not that it is a sufficient condition.

    • 0 avatar


      I’m not sure you’re correct as we’re not talking about all kids. The question is what factors lead to a drop from 75% to 49% for 17 year olds. I’d say a lot of that has to do with the increasing competitiveness of college admissions and the increase in the college wage premium since 1978.

    • 0 avatar

      jmo – “You can’t get into the Stanford C/S program by spending all your spare time working at McDonalds to pay the insurance on your IROC”

      Mowed grass before age 16….straight A’s. Bought 1st car at age 15 and rebuilt it with mowing money….still straight A’s. Started at McDonald’s on my 16th birthday…still straight A’s. Earned scholarship money through McDonald’s programs. Graduated with honors from HS. Took 2 additional jobs after HS for a year, delivering pizza in my 2nd car (bought on credit) and pumping gas to pay for college. Never expected my parents to pay. Started college a year later, still working at pumping gas…..3.8 GPA in freshman engineering at Purdue (go Boilers!). Worked various jobs all through 6 years and 2 degrees maintaining a 3.5 GPA with no education debt and owning a car the entire time. Have had great jobs and would not trade my experience for anything.

      Some kids then were lazy and didn’t try. Some kids today are lazy and don’t try. Hard work succeeds.

    • 0 avatar


      What year did you graduate from Purdue?

      Also, did you have to walk up hill both ways in the snow as well? :-P

    • 0 avatar

      sorry. I flew to conclusions. I just read “you need to spend all your spare time studying.” Today hasn’t been a good day, I’ve been getting in arguments all day.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I can remember when this subject was discussed here before. It was the first time I realized that TTAC was a bunch of old people.

    Go ahead and blame the “digital revolution” and the young folks for the decline in interest. It won’t change anything.

    EDIT – and by the way:
    “debt, traffic, commuting and pollution”

    What is the auto industry doing to make these go away instead of just trying to get people to forget about them?

    • 0 avatar

      “debt, traffic, commuting and pollution”

      What is the auto industry doing to make these go away instead of just trying to get people to forget about them?

      Given how the auto industry has fought solutions to these tooth and nail, could this be a case where by winning, they ultimately lose?

  • avatar

    I have four kids, aged 13, 15, 17, and 19. None drive. The oldest completed a driver training class in High School, but subsequently lost his Learner’s Permit paperwork. (Admittedly, he has a serious video-game addiction, so there’s your “digital technology.”) The 17-year-old is planning to wait a few years (see below). The 15-year-old is interested, (and she would like a Mini to drive!), but hasn’t done anything substantial about getting licensed.

    IIRC, I got my own Learner’s Permit about 24 hours after I turned fifteen.

    When I’ve asked my kids about their low levels of interest, I’m told that California has made the licensing of minors so punitive that my kids prefer to wait until the law treats them as adults. I’m don’t know exactly what the rules are, but in CA there are curfews, limits on who else can be in the car, &etc. It’s actually quite intrusive. I gather the intent was to lessen the accident rate of driving minors, but it seems to be discouraging minors driving in general.


  • avatar

    Since 1978, states have phased in stricter licensing requirements.

    States have instituted graduated licensing for teens. This change alone makes it less feasible for parents to simply take the child to the local testing center, have him or her get a license, and then toss the keys and say “Now drive yourself, I’m done playing chauffeur.” Which was how it worked in 1978, when I got my license…

    Today’s parents are also much more protective than parents of a generation ago. Which is ironic, as cars and driving are safer than ever. In 1978, a person was considered to be a “safety conscious driver” if he or she wore safety belts on at least a semi-regular basis.

    Japan’s experience isn’t really relevant to ours. The country has been mired in a severe recession since 1990; parking regulations in Tokyo are very strict (you must prove that you have a place to park the car before you can register it); and it has a draconian inspection regimen in place that severely chokes the supply of affordable used cars (which are what young drivers buy under normal circumstances).

  • avatar

    I think urbanization plays a part as well. With more people living or going to school in urban and suburban areas with better mass transit options the need for a drivers license may be decreased.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    How are “graduated Licenses” factored into this?

  • avatar

    Another factor is that there are so many new restrictions on licenses. Licenses can be suspended or revoked because of grades, drug convictions, and other reasons that did not exist in 1978.

    • 0 avatar

      I would also think it’s all the restriction in general — when I was 16 we had half the population, and not just far fewer legal restrictions but also the laws then were applied much more leniently in many cases. It seems to me the cops back then were looking for a way to let you go (“you’ve obviously had too much to drink to be driving, miss. Promise me you’ll drive straight home and stay there — and be careful!”). Now it seems they’re just dying to find excuses to lock everybody up. Lots of reasons can be cited for this, of course, and it all seems very rational. But when I was a kid we got away with some serious stuff with a wink and a scolding, and the sky didn’t fall. I know some of that is the difference between being a cute young girl and a 50 year old lady, but certainly not all of it.

      Anyway, compared to how things were in the 70s it’s very Big Brother-ish today, and that does take a lot of the fun out of it.

      DISCLAIMER: I haven’t driven while intoxicated (or even been intoxicated) in many years, nor do I advocate doing so (do as I say, not as I did, and get offa my lawn!).

  • avatar

    Something is lost when a kid disconnects from the car culture. Let’s hope that you don’t have to change the name to The Truth About An Artificial Digital World in the future.

    • 0 avatar

      Is something lost because an adult doesn’t join online culture? Are they also similarly socially retarded?

      I don’t think one is necessarily better or worse than the other. Personally, I’m impressed by the ability of my younger colleagues (note, I’m 33) to share and collaborate at a rate and by methods I find challenging to keep up with.

      I spent a little time watching a demonstration of where location-based services like Google Buzz are taking society. I think it’s very interesting, and certainly very democratizing, to see information shared and communication happen.

      Is this going to lose us “The Cruise”? Probably. Is it a fair trade for “What’s happening now?” I’d say it is. I don’t think the two are necessarily mutually exclusive, either. It’s much easier to car culture to spread across what were previously-insurmountable feasible distances for communication and interaction. We’re benefiting from this, as you call it, “artificial digital world” right now

  • avatar
    George B

    Back in the 80s Kansas allowed full driving privileges at 16 and restricted driving privileges at 14. Even freshmen in my high school could drive to school and to work without adult supervision. It was pretty obvious in my drivers ed class that the children of farmers had years of driving experience before they even turned 14. I think 12 was considered old enough to illegally drive a grain truck.

    Just checked the current law in Kansas and it appears that “Farm Permits” still exist to allow the former privileges, but full driving privileges don’t start until age 17 and driving at a younger age requires a licensed adult in the front passenger seat, defeating the utility of the drivers license.

    The other factor is the high cost of teen car insurance. Not sure if my high school classmates were even insured. Nobody talked about car insurance.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    I don’t see the point of this posting….so the kids may not be “into” cars as much as us geezers….that’s their choice, isn’t it? Maybe they have other priorities right now, like getting affordable educations and even finding jobs in this economic climate (whether or not said employment requires personal transportation).

    The trend’s not a universal thing by any means, either. Case in point in our household–one 19 year old, who is into cars and driving and even has become a manual transmission enthusiast now that he inherited my old wheels. The 16 year old has a learner’s permit but is not particularly in a hurry to drive–he has other things that have higher priority (school studies and musical activities–a decent violin and bow will dwarf the cost of most used cars). He realizes that he needs to get a license sometime soon but hasn’t been sucked in by the testosterone poisoned US Kar Kultur as yet. Which is OK with us.

  • avatar

    So how is this bad? Kids should be encouraged from driving less as its a dangerous pastime for teenagers. Parents should also be thankful for the cost savings and so should all motorists for not having to share the roads with unpredictable teenage drives. I don’t see the downside.

  • avatar

    Where I live, the licencing agency (ICBC) is run by a bunch of a$$holes. I tried to get my license before I turned 19, but they fought me every step of the way.

    First they said I was not old enough even though my birth certificate showed otherwise.

    Then they said I had to prove my citizenship – which is automatic in Canada (see birth certificate).

    Then my records disapeared from the system.

    Then I was at the wrong office, even tough there is only one in the suburb where I live.

    Then my test appointment was magically rescheduled from the afternoon to the morning. I found out on the day of the test.

    The list goes on and on. I did eventually get past the learner stage, but I will not ever get a full license because of all the trouble I’ve gone through so far. I’ll keep renewing my interim stage licence (same $$ as a full license) until I die.

  • avatar

    With real wages stagnant over 15+ years, do you think families can afford a 3rd car for the kids to use?

    Remember the home ATM is closed and cannot produce a Cadillac or a powerboat out of home equity anymore

  • avatar

    To pay for a decent car, including repairs and insurance, a teenager probably needs close to $400/month. At $8/hour, that’s about 15 hours/week after tax just to pay for the car, let alone money for gas or whatever fun they thought they might have with the car.

    Most highschoolers today are focused on studies, sports and extracurriculars, hoping for an edge to get into increasingly competitive colleges. If they have $400, they are more likely to spend it on an Xbox/PDA/tablet etc.

  • avatar

    Ah, the modern car. Prohibitively expensive to buy and downright usurious to insure for a teen. Increasingly locked down and difficult if not impossible to fix, so not much satisfaction or interaction to be had there. Let’s throw in a burgeoning awareness of the environment and climate change to the mix, not to mention that little oil slick down in the gulf. All for something that they associate with their parents trudging through another hideously dreary commute each day.

    Yep, if I was a teen again, I might well come to the conclusion that cars suck. Kids today just may have more common sense than we give them credit for.

  • avatar

    I’ll add some speculation to the fire and say it’s because kids lack independance. Kids just don’t go outside, ride bikes around, play out in the woods, etc. like in the past due to safety paranoia, so they don’t develop an appreciation for the independence that offers. When I turned 16, the car was a huge jump in independence from the bike and bus, but if you don’t even use the bike & bus maybe you don’t realize what you can do with a car.

    Also, with my (much) younger half brother at least, our mom shutteled him anywhere, anytime. Why bother fighting traffic when you have a free chaufer? I took him on a road-trip last summer, with a little hoonage in my 335i, and told him about how I’d take my girlfriend on weekend camping trips, ski trips, went to the beach with friends, etc. when I was his age. He went straight home and got a license (at age 18.5). I think he realized he missed out on a lot, but is still apprehensive about getting out and doing things like that.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve made this exact point in posts to other articles. Kids don’t go places on their own by bus/bike/feet as we used to, so a car doesn’t look like a benefit. Plus the new license restrictions throw a wet blanket on fun with their friends. I got a full license at 15 (the minimum age in Hawai’i in the 1970’s) and never looked back. It sure beat the TheBus.

  • avatar

    While economic, insurance, and licensing issues are all important, I believe there is another factor at work. There is a good deal of data and numerous research studies indicating that 16 and 17 year old kids are typically not developmentally ready to exercise sound judgment. (They think they are immortal!!) Many parents I know are very well aware of this and have discouraged/forbidden early driving for this reason. Also, I expect that tighter drivers licensing laws are based on the same studies.

  • avatar

    A Rorschach topic. Each person has their pet reasons why kids aren’t getting their licenses. So much has happened between 1978 and now that anyone can pick their favorite reason. Show me intermediate results! What happened in 1980-2005? Was it a gradual change? Was it hit by the economy? Was it hit by increased licensing requirements? Maybe it corresponds to Lost starting and kids want to watch that rather than drive? We don’t know!

    You know what also changed between 1978 and 2008? College admissions. A whole lot more kids go to college now than then. If kids go to college and don’t need a car there, why get a license? Kids can easily survive high school and the first couple years of college without a car.

    The bigger question is “What does this mean for the car industry?” Does this signal a lower car ownership rate for this generation as they age? Will the car ownership rate catch up with previous generations when the kids get into their 20s and 30s? Given the structure of most US cities, I’d say that it probably catches up once people get jobs and have to get their own groceries.

  • avatar

    I’m middle aged and can relate to the statistics of 1978 with a nostalgic eye. My daughter is 18 and is in the graduated licensing system. We have had several conversations about then and now and figured out that on a whole there are a lot more rules today and much higher costs for teenage drivers.
    I first drove at age 12 on rural roads and backstreets then at age 14 bought my first motorcycle. On the day of my 16th birthday got a learner’s permit and came back in 3 weeks to get a full license. My first car a 64 Chevelle was driven for months with expired plates (from previous owner), no insurance, and barely operating brakes. The ONLY thing my parents cared about was if oil leaked onto their driveway from my old beater!
    When I finally licensed and insured the Chevelle the process was as easy as paying the fees.
    Now there is so much nonsense to register a car such as safety inspections, emissions test, appraisals etc it’s hardly worth it for a teenager to have a car. I also think that teens have been wrongly brainwashed by the media and educators into thinking that cars are evil, polluting demons.
    Of course back in my day there were so many cheap, good cars that had lot’s of cool factor compared to today’s appliance cars. I remember taking a black 65 Imperial for a test drive from a local funeral home which had upgraded to a 78 Cadillac and thinking that life doesn’t get any better than this.
    Call me outdated and out of touch but I think that teens today are at a disadvantage because of all the cellphones, videogames and technology. There is no thrill quite like bombing down a back street in a barely legal, barely safe, $50- car!

  • avatar

    Cities are growing faster than rural areas and we have more people with fewer opportunities for gainful employment, especially among the young. Demographics are what they are.

    A car is expensive to buy, crushingly costly to insure and potentially expensive to maintain. If you live in a city and within easy distance of everyone you know, a smartphone allows you to manage your social life (eg, a text message substitutes neatly for cruising around trying to figure out where people are) and it’ll cost much, much less.

    • 0 avatar

      The nation’s fastest growing urban areas are in Texas – Dallas, Houston and Austin – all of which are much more centered around the automobile than older eastern cities and San Francisco.

      Despite the hype about New York City, for example, it suffered from one of the highest rates of out-migration of any region in the country during this decade. Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, meanwhile, are economic basket cases.

      The death of suburban and rural areas, and the “rebirth” of cities, have all been greatly exaggerated.

    • 0 avatar

      They may have been exaggerated, but they’re not untrue. Denser urban areas are seeing more people than rural and rural/suburban areas are, and cars are simply less necessary in any city of appreciable size.

      People may not be moving to New York or what have you en masse, but they’re certainly not setting up homesteads, either.

    • 0 avatar

      People are still leaving New York City. They don’t have to set up a homestead when they leave New York, or never bother with it in the first place – they can just move to the suburbs, or smaller cities.

      Older, denser urban areas are being outstripped by Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Austin in growth. Domestic migration as a whole has continued to shift away from the biggest cities and toward smaller ones.

      The growth within metropolitan areas tends to be on the outskirts, where development follows the suburban pattern. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of all metropolitan growth in the last decade took place on the periphery of cities, not in the core of the city.

      The idea that there is a great movement back to the city is the result of wishful thinking, not careful analysis of trends. Granted, in a country of over 250 million people, if even only 10 percent want to live in the city core, that is still a lot of people. But that doesn’t prove that there is huge movement back to the city, or that suburban areas are slated to decline.

      As for the decline of rural areas – that is nothing new. Certain areas of rural Pennsylvania (primarily the northern and western parts of the state) have been losing population since the 1960s, as coal mining either stopped completely or became automated, and jobs disappeared. That was when the car culture was at its height. (Meanwhile, rural areas in the south-central part of the state booomed.)

      But Philadelphia and Pittsburgh declined, too. Pittsburgh has about half of the people it did in 1950.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and can report some truth to both sides of the urban vs. suburban debate. The New Urbanism trend has resulted in lots of fairly dense walkable combined residential and retail developments, but here in Texas they also include big parking garages. These areas offer an interesting alternative to the single family home for people without children. However, once people start having kids, they want the good schools and safe back yards of the suburbs.

  • avatar

    There are a plethora of insightful comments lurking above my entry.

    I wonder if there is a possible correlation between a lack of teen driving and the apparent decline in youth I see out and about of all ages riding bicycles, playing at parks and building forts in the woods and damming a small creek and just wandering haphazardly as I and my peers often did back in the 1960s.

  • avatar

    The situation may be worse than the figures show. There are probably more kids in that age group with credit cards and checking accounts than there were in 1978, and you need a valid ID to charge something, cash a check, and a host of other things that have nothing to do with driving a vehicle.

    A driver’s license is the universally accepted form of ID. If you have a 19 year old without one, he/she hasn’t got a credit card, a bank account or a job. For that last “activity”, parents should be encouraging their kids to get that license.

    • 0 avatar

      I see a lot of college kids using Passports for the purposes you mentioned. They are only $120 and are the ultimate in ID when it comes to checking accounts, employment verification etc.

  • avatar
    Ken Strumpf

    Maybe it’s not the kids, it’s the parents like me that were in no hurry to see their kids learn to drive. I know far too many teenagers who were killed or seriously injured while driving and I did a few things that make me wonder how it is that I survived my teen years. I discouraged my kids from getting licensed the moment they came of age and I’m the opposite of over-protective. It just seemed prudent to me.

  • avatar

    Is it any wonder kids aren’t as into cars like people used to be. Car companies are dissappearing at an alarming rate. Sporty cars and personal luxury coupes are either gone or selling at a snails pace(Camaro and Mustang seem ok as of now), people seem content to drive boring look alike plain generic/geriatic sedans like Camrys and Accords and cute utes are as common of a site as mile long lines at the grocery store on the first of the month. Add in litle to no styling originality, boring depressing gray tan and black interiors, cheap hard plastics and seats, loads of electronic nannies and crap to go wrong when the warranty runs out along with out of site insurance rates and it’s no wonder todays younger generation is losing interest. I mean how can any car enthusiast get excited about driving a Toyota Prius for example? Folks that buy these are on a quest to save the planet and cut back fuel use not because they are exited about what they are driving. For a car fan like me and most of my friends these are truly some of the least exciting times in the automotive universe and i’m still in my 30’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Or it could be, you know, that cars are much more expensive than they used to be, and that you can’t exactly get the kind of “walk in off the street” job that would allow you to foot car payments—let alone insurance—for anything “nice”.

      When all you can afford is a beater Camry or a new Aveo, why bother?

      I hear a lot of pontificating on this thread about “how much better things used to be”. One of the things that isn’t better, and indeed is getting worse, is opportunity for the young, and that’s not exactly young people’s fault. “The kids these days” can’t get a job. When you can’t get a job, swinging $200+ a month on insurance is not feasible.

    • 0 avatar

      cars are much more expensive than they used to be

      That’s just not the case when you adjust for inflation. Cars have been getting cheaper not more expensive when you adjust for inflation – we’re not even going to get into adjsuting for greater durablity. If 1 1978 Malibu made it to 100k it was a miracle – today the powertrain warranty is 100k.

  • avatar

    Sure, it bugs me that my soon-to-be-16-daughter shows little interest in driving. But I’m sure that my ancestors would have been bugged by my lack of interest in horses. We all have our fetishes.

    Kids today are arguably more independent and world-smart than a generation ago, and they do it at a fraction of the cost using mass transit and the internet. What is so wrong about that?

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t agree that kids are more independent than they were a generation ago. If anything, they are more inclined to live at home (even after college) and more likely to depend on their parents for various “necessities.”

    • 0 avatar

      Touche. I should have said “mobile”, not “independent”, in describing the little parasites.

  • avatar

    What Psarhj said. I think kids even fetishize their cell phones the way we did our cars. And (echoing Psarhj) so much of social life then depended on cars while now it depends on mobiles.

  • avatar

    This atmosphere of this thread makes me grind my teeth me a little, but I will agree with the points about overprotectiveness, mostly because, as a parent, I see a lot of it first-hand.

    The media has done a really good (bad?) job of selling fear, both for kids, and of kids. On one hand, parents are hit left, right and centre with fears (and, in some cases, charges of neglect if they don’t capitulate); on the other, children and young adults, especially the poor, get the impression that they’re a threat, or at least an inconvenience, to society.

    Disenfranchising the young is dangerous and stupid because you’re essentially mortgaging your society’s future.

    If I had a choice, and this is going to sound callous, I’d be throwing social security and pensions (and the people who depend on them) on the proverbial bonfire in favour of education and social services. The young (and again, especially the young and poor) start out heavily disadvantaged. Keeping them down for fifty or so years just ensures you fifty years of social problems as a result.

    • 0 avatar

      In Pennsylvania, 35 percent of the total state general fund is spent on kindergarten-12th grade education. It is the largest single expenditure in the entire budget. This doesn’t even include the amount that local governments spend on education.

      I would doubt that other states are much different.

      We are already spending plenty on education – any additional amounts we spend will go towards salaries for teachers and administrators. I have no problem with teachers getting paid well, based on their educational requirements and job responsibilities.

      There is no proof, however, that teachers or administrators are currently underpaid. Nor is there any proof that increasing educational spending will directly benefit children.

      We also spend a ton of money on social services for children. We now know that this merely results in irresponsible parents having more children that they really can’t afford.

    • 0 avatar

      That speaks more to how badly broken the American educational system is. You spend more per capita on healthcare than virtually anyone else and get terrible value for your money by comparison.

      There is no proof, however, that teachers or administrators are currently underpaid. Nor is there any proof that increasing educational spending will directly benefit children

      It largely depends on your definition of education. Most nations do a much better job of public education. In countries where it’s balkanized, reactionary and subject to the whims and desires of thousands of administrators with no plan, then yes, it will be terrible.

      Canada, by the way, has the distinction of being significantly worse than the United States, and for the reasons above. I’m quite frankly embarrassed at how bad ECE and parent-support is in this country. I also volunteer at my son’s school’s breakfast program and I get really twitchy thinking about the future of those kids if they aren’t even getting a good meal to start the day, let alone educational and social support at home.

      And yes, I’ve seen their parents. I certainly think we need more intervention to break the cycle and stop them from turning into their parents when they grow up. I personally don’t care how much it costs to make that happen, but the pathetic, shoe-string, uncoordinated efforts tell me that no one is really thinking very hard about it at all.

      We also spend a ton of money on social services for children. We now know that this merely results in irresponsible parents having more children that they really can’t afford.

      This happens all over the world, and very often in places that have no social safety net to speak of. Poor, uneducated people are very, very bad at family planning: social services make a nice scapegoat, but that’s not why they’re having kids.

      The more children you drag out of poverty, the better this situation gets, but it takes time. Their parents need support and opportunity. They need decent, accessible health care. They need stable homes, education that isn’t broken. None of this is quick or easy, and for the same reasons that “nation-building isn’t quick or easy.

      Will it be a sinkhole for money? For a while, yes.

      To use a car analogy: you can change your oil every 5000km, keep everything greased, lubed, checked and in tune, or you can just do break/fix. The costs might be a wash, but the former is more likely to get you to work on time.

    • 0 avatar

      psharjinian: That speaks more to how badly broken the American educational system is. You spend more per capita on healthcare than virtually anyone else and get terrible value for your money by comparison.

      This is the result of structure. European education systems initially achieve better outcomes because they aggressively track students very early in the process.

      The U.S. is much more likely to allow children to pursue their own interests through high school; if anything, aggressive tracking would spur a backlash from parents. This is particularly true of minority parents, as tracking relies very heavily on test scores, and minorities tend to score lower on this type of exam than whites or Asians.

      Europeans are much more aggressive about weeding out lower achievers and shuttling them to “appropriate” (i.e., less demanding schools that prepare them for more menial jobs) than American schools are. Plus, just as the U.S. makes more aggressive efforts to save premature infants (which unfavorably skews our infant mortality rates), it also is more thorough in providing instruction to special education students.

      At the college level, the U.S. system is superior to its European counterparts. Why? Because it is more set up along the lines of the European system for elementary and secondary schools.

      The “tracking” used at this level is quite simple – if you can’t handle the work, you are free to leave.

      psharjinian: It largely depends on your definition of education. Most nations do a much better job of public education. In countries where it’s balkanized, reactionary and subject to the whims and desires of thousands of administrators with no plan, then yes, it will be terrible.

      If you measure educational achievement solely by test scores, maybe. But I see no evidence that U.S. workers or administrators are dumber or less innovative than their European, Canadian or Asian counterparts. In some cases, quite the opposite is true (particulalry in the medical field). That is what really matters.

      psharjinian: This happens all over the world, and very often in places that have no social safety net to speak of.

      That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for spending more on social programs. If anything, we could take it as admission that we could get the same results while spending a lot less money.

      psharjinian: Poor, uneducated people are very, very bad at family planning: social services make a nice scapegoat, but that’s not why they’re having kids.

      Can’t agree. Both my wife and mother-in-law have worked with poor families. My wife was a social worker, and now teaches special education in an urban school district. Most of her students – and even some of her aides – come from poor families. Some of her aides are welfare-to-work participants.

      My mother-in-law worked for an organization that povided family-planning services to poor women in rural western Pennsylvania.

      The simple fact is that, in America, the poor are keenly aware of the social services that single mothers and their offspring are entitled to receive, and it definitely influences their decision as to whether to have children, and how many to have. Spending more on social services won’t solve this problem, unless it involves removing the children from the home and placing them in place like the Milton Hershey School – a residential school located in Hershey, Pa., that provides an education and all living expenses for disadvantage children.

      psharjinian: The more children you drag out of poverty, the better this situation gets, but it takes time. Their parents need support and opportunity. They need decent, accessible health care. They need stable homes, education that isn’t broken. None of this is quick or easy, and for the same reasons that “nation-building isn’t quick or easy.

      They have to want those things, and be willing to work for them. Education is more than sending a child to school – for it to work, it must involve parents who are committed to achievement and view it as THEIR responsibility, too. Otherwise, school becomes a taxpayer-funded babysitting service.

      It also won’t do one bit of good to provide people with health care unless they view maintaining their health as THEIR responsibility. Taxpayer-funded health care can’t counteract obesity, a two-pack-a-day habit, or a promiscuous lifestyle.

      Otherwise, you might as well skip the free education and health care and give them a brand-new BMW convertible instead. It will ultimately have the same effect on their overall educational attainment level and overall health. And it would make poor people happier, too.

      In the long run, the free BMW would probably be cheaper for taxpayers, too.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As the parent of 3 “millenials” (one still in college) I can certainly say that all them face a nasty job market . . . and statistics show that the US unemployment rate among under-30 folks with college degrees exceeds the rate at other nasty periods within living memory (i.e. the 1974-76 period and the 1979-83 perod), even though the total unemployment rate in the early 1980s recession was higher.

    And, certainly a lot of people are graduating college and/or professional (law, business, medical) with enough debt to buy a house in inexpensive markets.

    But, the big difference is the fact that the opportunities to enjoy driving are becoming more limited. For the great bulk of Americans who live in urban areas, traffic congestion is a daily fact of life. And people are highly aware of the automobile’s role as a source of pollution, as an indirect source of money for folks in countries who don’t share our values (admittedly, the bulk of US imported oil comes from Canada; but oil is a pretty fungible commodity).

    So, my millenials (one of whom is moving back to Los Angeles for work reasons after working 3 years in NYC without a car) see a car as a necessary evil. So, for them, its most important characteristic be that it have a “light” footprint — reliable and cheap to operate. To the extent that it is a fashion statement, the “fashion” that should be expressed is ecological consciousness, i.e. a hybrid or something that doesn’t advertise major fuel consumption.

    I think the market is changing, because the environment is changing — and the changes don’t favor “enthusiast” cars. They will be come an increasingly small subset.

  • avatar

    I’m 35 years old and still vividly remember my 16th birthday, driving down to the DMV for my behind the wheel test and receiving my “unrestricted” drivers license. It was more important than any material gift I could’ve received that year. I also had already lined up a weekend job at a store across town where I’d carpool with friends for our 6pm-2am shifts on Friday and Saturday nights. Today, while the 16 year old can still get the license that weekend job would be impossible because of the driving curfew for younger drivers and the fact that I carpooled with 3 other 16/17 year old friends.

    All that said, I think the legal driving age should be increased. I’m damn lucky that I didn’t kill myself while driving at that age…and no curfew or restrictions on how many non-adults could be in the car with me would’ve made a damn bit of difference. I simply was inexprienced, careless and stupid. All things that only age and wisdom could solve. Locally to me (MN) we’ve been having enough teens dying behind the wheel this spring so new laws apparently aren’t a cure all to teen stupidity as I guess.

    The other thing is that without that job I had my driving would’ve been non-exsistant. I had to pay for the car, insurance, license, etc. Even in the early 90’s that was a sizable chunk of change. My hourly wage of about $5-6 ate up almost every last dime and I didn’t have cell phones or ipods to spend my money on. My guess is that same grocery store isn’t paying much more than $2/hr more for that same job almost 20 years later. Meanwhile, insurance, gasoline, etc. all cost a significant % more.

  • avatar

    I’m 21yo so the years of being a teenager aren’t that far behind me. I know why kids aren’t getting their license as quickly. I’m surprised barely anyone has touched on the issue. The issue is price.

    The only people I knew in high school with a vehicle had their parents pay for the vehicle and the insurance. Even now at the age of 21yo the only people I know my age with a vehicle had their parents buy it and at least had their parents pay the insurance on it for a time.

    If the parents don’t buy the kid a vehicle, pay for the insurance and give him the keys, most teenagers can’t imagine themselves saving enough money to buy a used car and then having to work to maintain it. The price just sucks all the joy out of owning a vehicle.

    When you’ve been able to get around fine by bus and bike for so long and your parents are willing to drive you to those places too far or late for either, you don’t imagine yourself needing a car. Not for a price anyway, the value just isn’t there. There was usually at least one person in every group of friends with parents who could afford to give their kid a car and pay their insurance. If your friend can pick you up to go to the mall why pay $400/m to do it yourself?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m skeptical about the reason being price. Cars have always been expensive. I didn’t have my own car until after graduating from college and getting my first professional job. I had been on my own since age 18 and had move 2000 miles away. I could not rely on parents and friends driving me around so it was bus/bike/walking, yet I always wanted that license anyway. My son and his friends couldn’t care less about it, even though all us parents can afford to get them a car. I think they just don’t have many places to go that mom or dad can’t take them to.

  • avatar

    Wow, talk about a loaded headline–first line too: ” . . . and not all of it for the better.”

    To be sure, the chart shows an obvious shift in the driving habits/preferences/realities of today’s youth. But to assume and state that it is negative for either those young people or our society is bias, not truth.

    I know, I know. This is a site for car enthusiasts. The truth, and it’s been noted here many times by both the site writers and readers, is that there aren’t as many car fans today as there used to be. Not by a long shot.

    My kids’ interest in driving is almost zero. We FORCE our kid to drive at least a few times a week because we believe driving is an essential life skill up there with being about to cook a decent meal. Our son has the use of a car (not his per se, but it is one of three cars for a total of three drivers in the house) and he prefers to walk. We gave him a check to buy a parking pass at the high school, and the check went stale because he never bothered and has no intrinsic motivation to drive to school (admittedly, it is within walking distance). Perhaps more telling, the high school did not manage to sell all the student parking spaces allotted for this year. Let’s phrase that bluntly: there is more supply than demand for high school student parking spaces!

    I fail to see how this is necessarily “wrong” or “bad” for our kids or society in general. They are making different choices than we did (I’m a late baby boomer) in a different socio-economic environment.

    If there is one thing I know about this generation (call them what you will) it is that they are certainly not stupider than my generation. These are smart kids who have a much broader world-view (to be sure, much of it digitally mediated) than we ever did. They are not provincial in the least, and their concept of a “playground” (for lack of a better term) is much broader than cruising main street Friday nights. This is emphatically the antithesis of the American Graffiti generation.

    I suspect it is or the good, not the bad, though it may hurt the automobile industry.

  • avatar

    As a 24 year old i feel fairly close to this trend. Many of my friends (about 50%) could care less about cars, but it has nothing to do with anything other then they just don’t like cars. You see them all over the place, they’re the camry drivers of tomorrow.

    I also have a fair number of friends who love cars (about 50%) and the digital age has made our love of cars better then it could have ever been in the past. Not only do we look up spec’s online, find prices online, we also belong to car fourms where we give and get trouble shooting and repair advice to keep out baby’s in tip top shape. the internet has made it so i car friends all over southern california and we meet up weekly, for those into cars, there has never been a better time then now.

  • avatar

    What’s wrong is that the word “between” is misspelled.

  • avatar

    I don’t think it has anything to do with affordability or video games.

    Young people have a much clearer perspective on cars than we older generations with our carbon monoxide-soaked brains. They are too smart to be taken in by the auto love conditioning which was so effective on us. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to convince most North American adult males that our culture is not dependent on heavy use of cars, but the young people have no trouble seeing that. They are able to value themselves, form community, travel, work, avoid boredom and get laid without selling their souls to the auto industry.

    • 0 avatar

      brandloyalty: They are too smart to be taken in by the auto love conditioning which was so effective on us.

      It’s more that they can afford to take it for granted. It has always been there for them. For people born up until about 1970, the mobility provided by widespread ownership of private autos was a new thing. For those born in the 1970s and later, not so much.

      brandloyalty: It’s IMPOSSIBLE to convince most North American adult males that our culture is not dependent on heavy use of cars, but the young people have no trouble seeing that.

      We sense it, but don’t view it as a bad thing. Having lived without a car, I have no desire to do it again.

      brandloyalty: They are able to value themselves, form community, travel, work, avoid boredom and get laid without selling their souls to the auto industry.

      For travel, they rely on the airlines, so the difference is in scale and distance as opposed to means (i.e., both rely on a machine powered by fossil fuel).

      Unless they are traveling to their preferred destinations via raft, sailing ship or horse-drawn wagon.

      As for the others – from what I see, the new lifestyle isn’t any better than the old in regards to sophistication or knowledge. Some of the most provincial people I know are urban dwellers. They are also the most amusing, as they seem to think that living in the city, and taking public transportation, in and of themselves, somehow makes one more sophisticated or better informed.

    • 0 avatar

      They finally doing something different and original. It’s about ‘effin time.

      I’ve always been disappointed about the generations that followed the Boomers. For starters, I was really looking forward to what they’d come up with in music, putting our rock and roll into the same light as we Boomers put our parent’s Big Band.

      Well, they came up with their music. It’s the same bloody rock and roll that we’re listening to. Real original, folks.

      So, despite the possible problems this is going to cause for the automobile industry, I’m really glad to see them venture out on their own paths . . . . . finally.

      By the way, if you’re of the Boomer generation, and are just entering into your 60’s as you read this, you’re old enough to remember that availability of a car was not necessarily automatic, much less ownership of one’s own car. It’s was something really special, hoped for, and dreamed about.

      Later generations, due to doting parents and a higher lifestyle had car availability a lot easier. So, of course, it’s nowhere near as special. Or important.

  • avatar

    When I was growing up, kids were buying Camaros, Firebirds, Mustangs, 240Z, Datsun 510s, then Honda preludes…you get the picture. In the 2000s, kids got to drive Minivans and SUVs.

    Highschools used to have Automotive shop classes and all the guys and some gals signed up and tinkered with their cars. We all learned to change our own oil and rebuild carburators. Now with school budget cuts, shop classes have largely been withdrawn from the curriculum. Regardless, most new cars are so locked down that you can’t work on them anyways.

    Then to keep the young from killing themselves, we introduced graduated licensing. That means even if you take your learner’s licence at 16, you can’t get into a full driving license until you’re 20.

    With all these barriers, our young people have found other things to do.

  • avatar

    Interesting topic. As noted elsewhere, there are likely as many opinions on this as there are posters. I think you would need to break the numbers down a bit to draw any kind of conclusion. For instance, urban kids have many more transportation, employment and socialization options than rural kids do. I’ll bet most of the drop comes from urban dwellers for many of the reasons noted above.
    That said, there are many more ways for 16 year olds to amuse themselves and spend money than there was in ’79 when the province of BC issued me my first DL. iPods, blackberries et al did not exist, and the fashion of the day for clothes was battered denim instead of expensive designer rags. A lot of kids today see cars as nothing more than appliances, and if they can get by without they do. Other priorities have become important to today’s kids.
    When my DL was issued, all I needed was 2 weeks practice on a learner’s license and then I could take the road test. The hardest part of that was parallel parking. That and $15.00 (as I recall) and I drove home a fully licensed driver. I bought a $300.00 ’65 Impala (396 no less !), added minimum insurance and away I went. I don’t think I spent $600.00 on the whole deal. No inspection, and unless you were known as a troublemaker the local RCMP were reasonably tolerant unless you were impaired. (BIG trouble even then.)
    My 16 year old niece will eventually spend 3 years and many times that amount to become a fully licensed driver and vehicle owner. To her and her friends its more important to have nice clothes, a cel phone and time to study and socialize instead of work to pay for gas at $1.20 a liter and so on. She will need a car someday, just not now. I don’t think automakers have anything to worry about though. People today start later, but they go a lot longer as well.
    Mt .02 anyway.

  • avatar

    Go to a new model car show and see what today’s kids gravitate to. Yes, there is some interest in Mustangs, EVOs and the like, but most that I saw went right to the outsized SUVs. Your typical kid can’t afford to buy, fuel, insure, and repair a vehicle like that. I guess times have changed a lot. As a high-schooler, the student parking lot looked like a new car dealership, the teacher’s lot decidedly less so. Today, I’ll bet that is not true anymore.

    When I see my nieces and nephews, they are not interested in cars. Some are “anti” car, stating environmental reasons, but most just are indifferent to them. They bury themselves into their handhelds, their electronic connection to their friends. Kids beg for phones; it is the status symbol of today. Yet, it is kind of a “doomsday” machine…it gives you freedom to communicate with your friends, but it is an electronic tether to the parental units. You are in constant contact, you can be tracked…why a kid would beg for this is beyond me. Only one nephew is really into cars. He bought a Prelude with a JDM engine in it (or so he says). Keeps wanting to buy my car…maybe I will give it to him as a graduation present, if the grades are good enough…

  • avatar

    I’m 26 years old and am only now getting my license and looking at buying a car. I think there are a lot of factors why it has taken me so long, but thinking back to high school, I remember that there just wasn’t the overwhelming need or want that outweighed the cost. Only now, with professional school loans under control and the desire to visit friends that have moved away do I have the desire to drive and purchase a car. Obviously I find cars interesting, else I wouldn’t be frequenting this site on a daily basis. Maybe for my generation and younger, it really isn’t until life prompts then the need for a car do they decide to drive, love of cars and driving isn’t enough.

  • avatar

    Today the social universe of many kids revolves more around using their iDroid to update their face-space page that anything powered by internal combustion.

    Graduated licensing laws make it much more of a PITA that it was for previous generations.

  • avatar

    I’m 16, and don’t drive. Here’s why:

    1. I don’t have a car. Call me lazy, unindependent, whatever. I’m looking into getting a job, but I can’t go out and buy a car as soon as I get the job. I want to work for a year, then get a car (and a license) when I graduate high school. Sure, I could buy a $500 Geo with a few months pay, but why not save for a year and buy a nice car?

    2. As you probably noticed, my parents aren’t buying me a car. They may pay for half, but I need to earn some money myself. Besides, I’m almost scared of what they would give me. Maybe the old ’99 Sienna we traded in a few years ago. Shudder.

    3. Insurance. How much would it be? Even if I drove a Buick, I don’t want to know.

    4. Restrictive learner’s permits: My friend got his permit at the beginning of sophomore year. It’s the end of junior year, and he is just now able to drive friends without an adult in the car. If I get my car at 17 or 18, I’d get more privileges and probably cheaper insurance.

    5. Where would I go? I don’t really go to drive ins or race fuel injected Corvettes against Super Stock Dodge Darts. My friends who drive do two things: commute to school and run errands/chauffeur parents. I like biking to school, especially during the downhill parts. You can’t feel the changes in terrain as much in a car.

    It’s not because I’m lazy or not into cars. It’s just kind of impractical to own one at this time in my life.

    • 0 avatar

      Where would you go!? Search for my post above: speculation confirmed.

      Don’t you like to DO anything outside your house? Do all your friends live within walking distance. In the unlikely event they do, are those the only friends you want?

      Here are a few of the cool things I did when I was 16 (1994). You can’t do all of ’em anymore due to graduated licensing, but you can still do a lot.

      ski trips with friends
      camping trips with friends, at the spur of the moment
      mountain biking
      off roading in a 2wd S-10 :)
      exploring the roads around Mt. St. Helens
      exploring new cities
      road trips with friends and my girlfriend
      trips to the beach
      staying out as late as I want, due to not needing a ride home
      being able to keep my OWN schedule, in general, without being dependent on others. (That’s the real big thing right there). Very handy if I needed to do something after school, going back and forth between my divorced parents houses, going to parties, going to the bike shop…whatever)
      Hoonage in the snow (we’d actually get up and leave EARLY on snow days :)

    • 0 avatar

      I understand the ride point. That can get tedious. I usually just ask for a ride back. I really enjoy getting rides, as I like to see other cars than just the ones I normally ride in.

      I know there is a lot that I am missing out on by not driving. But it would be great to just plunge into all of the benefits of driving without having most privileges restricted and gradually opening up. That’s why I’m not driving right now.

  • avatar

    So how do kids get anywhere? I mean, as a teen, I went places in MY car. OF course, there were lot of places that I shouldn’t have gone. But that is not the point. How do these kids get to school? How do they get to the mall? Or a movie? Or their friends houses? Where do they have bad awkward sex?

  • avatar

    Does no license = not knowing how to drive? Whether the kid wants to or not, parents better be teaching them how. It’s one of those life skills, like swimming, which even if you can’t do well, you should know how.

  • avatar

    I look at it this way, and I am 31 so I have seen time pass since 78, the time when cars were still novelties has passed and they truly are appliances. Kids have always been, and will continue to be drawn by novelty, that is one of the great joys of youth. Cars have now been around with us for more than a hundred years. If I am not mistaken there are more cars per capita now than ever. I remember distinctly when I was a small child, most of the parents had only one car per household. Then Credit got cheap in the late 80’s and 90’s and you had an explosion of car ownership in the US. With more than one car in the family now, it is easier for little Johny to get a ride back from the mall than have to work his tail feathers off for some magnificent “POS” 70’s, 80’s vintage (Pick your Detroit lemon of choice.)

  • avatar

    My off-the-wall theory is that parents of teenagers in 1978 and into the 80’s (like my parents) were better with money and didn’t over-extend themselves with debt. Today’s parents of teenagers did one too many home renovations, expensive vacations, bought expensive cars for themselves, too many 60 inch plasma’s etc. so they don’t have money in the family budget for a car for their kid.

    My parents made pretty good money, but drove POS Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles until the wheels fell off, didn’t replace a thing in the kitchen or bathroom for decades, saved money and had plenty of cash when the time came to buy my sister and me a used car. The parents of the 90’s and 2000’s seemed to blow all their disposable income into making sure they had top of the line everything in their home trying to keep up with their neighbors and friends.

  • avatar

    Could it also be due to the deminishing middle class? The pay gap between a CEO and his employees grew by thousands of percentage points in the past 30 years.

    Maybe just that the average middle class family has less purchasing power to help the children buy a car anyway (or more likely not able to buy a new one for the Dad and thus can’t pass the old one to the son).

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