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The decline in driving among young American adults

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When considering what to say to a law school applicant looking at various schools at various price points, I was surprised to learn that he has never learned to drive.  (This came up because he currently envisions himself working for a small firm in a rural part of an east coast state, which could be difficult even without having to rely on the basically non-existent mass transit options in such environs.)

He’s about to graduate from college, which led me to wonder how common it is for Americans at various ages to be non-drivers.  The best proxy for this — not a perfect one of course — is whether people have driver’s licenses.  If you had asked me to guess I would have said that something like 95% of people in their early 20s are licensed to drive. And in fact this would have been a tolerably close estimate when I was that age: in 1983, 91.8% of 20-24 year olds were licensed.

Yet it turns out that today, nearly one in every four 20-24 year olds (23.3%) doesn’t have a driver’s license. The decline since 1983 among 25-39 year olds is also striking, with the percentage declining from 95.6 to 85.1 in the 25-29 cohort, from 96.5 to 86.6 among 30 to 34 year olds, and 94.9 to 87.9 in the 35-39 age range.  (All latter figures are for 2014).

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s been a huge increase in geriatric drivers.  In 1983, only 55% of Americans 70 or older had a driver’s license (I find that number shockingly low. I would guess it reflects far lower percentages of car ownership per household in the mid-20th century, with one consequence being that many households never acquired more than one driver at most.  I also wonder what the gender breakdown looks like in this regard).  In 2014 that figure had risen to 79%.  When one considers that the number of old people in the US has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, we may soon be facing a crisis of perpetual left turn signaling.

As for why young people are so much less likely to be drivers than 30 years ago, is this a product of increasing urbanization?  The declining economic status of millennials relative to their boomer parents?  All that crazy “rap” music?

Relatedly, what do people who don’t have driver’s licenses do for identification purposes?  What card do they produce when they’re carded?  How do they vote?  If they look like they might be Mexican, how do they prove their legal residence for the purpose of being able to frequent fine dining establishments?

Anyway, there’s something happening here, though what it is ain’t exactly clear (that’s what the comments section is for naturally).

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