Fewer Americans Getting Their Driver’s License

A rising percentage of Americans are skipping the time-honored tradition of obtaining and holding a driver’s license.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found a decrease in the proportion of U.S. citizens who hold licenses between 2011 and 2014. It’d be tempting to say a new wave of young Americans no longer interested in driving cars are driving the trend, especially amid a flurry of new ride-sharing services and alternate methods of transportation.

It’s not just teenagers. It’s everyone. Data culled from the Federal Highway Administration shows decreases across all age groups. Among 20-to-24-year-olds, the proportion dropped 3 percent in the latest three-year span for which data is available, from 79.7 percent to 76.7 percent. Among 40-to-44-year-olds, it dropped 2.5 percent over the three years. Among 60-to-65-year-olds, it fell 1.6 percent.

The most interesting part of the data isn’t that a lower percentage of younger people are eschewing driver’s licenses. That percentage has been consistently falling for the past two decades, long before Uber and Lyft arrived to pose a threat to the traditional car-ownership model.

It’s that the percentage of middle-aged and senior citizens has declined. Their numbers showed a consistent rise over a quarter-century until 2008. Since the Great Recession, they’ve never recovered. Among those ages 60 to 64, the percentage of Americans with licenses declined by 3 percent. Among those 30 to 34, the percentage declined 4.4 percent.

The paper’s authors, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, didn’t analyze the factors driving the trends. Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft might be obvious contributors – certainly General Motors thinks so. The company unveiled Maven, a new ride-sharing brand, and invested $500 million in Lyft only weeks ago.

Another factor might be that a lower percentage of Americans are seeking employment. Even as the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent, the percentage of Americans seeking employment has decreased 3.2 percent between 2008 and 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ civilian labor force participation rate.

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