Generational Travel Patterns in the United States: New Insights from Eight National Travel Surveys

Whether Millennials (also called Generation Y, referring to those born between 1980 and 2000) differ from their predecessor generations in mobility preferences and travel behavior has attracted wide attentions, initially from news media and increasingly from academia and professionals as well as policy makers. Millennials have become the largest population group in the United States. Their consumption choices and activity participation (virtual and in-person) have profound implications to both private industries and public services. Frequently cited anecdotes suggest that Millennials, compared with earlier generations, prefer living in urban areas, choose lower automobility (less likely to become licensed drivers, owning fewer cars, and driving less), and delayed lifestyle decisions (employment, homebuying, marriage, parenting). If this is indeed the case, business practices and public policies and programs should adjust accordingly with regarding, for example, car and housing production, transit and highway investment, and urban land development. The existing empirical studies, however, have so far reported mixed findings. A good number of studies have confirmed that Millennials differed from Baby Boomers (born 1946-64) and Generation X (born 1965-79) as evident by Millennials’ lower levels of driver’s licensure, car ownership, auto trip rates, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Others, however, argued that Millennials did not differ from the earlier generations; they just delayed their lifecycle decisions and would catch up in automobility in the future. Analyzing generational characteristics in mobility preferences and behavioral decisions should take into consideration of the effects associated with individuals’ age (referred as age or lifecycle effects) and the effects pertaining to the macro societal and environmental conditions associated with the time (referred as period effects). At any given point of time, people from different generations have different ages. It is known that people’s preferences, needs, and values change as they become older. This age effects make Millennials not comparable with other generations if cross-sectional data from a single time point are used. A practical approach to control for the age effects is by means of cohort comparison. This approach utilizes data from different time points and pairs up Millennials with other generations by the same age groups. For example, one may compare the Millennials aged 16 using data from 1996-2016 with the Baby Boomers also aged 16 using data from 1962-1982. The issue with this cohort comparison approach is that there are different macro factors and conditions relating to economies, technologies, and natural and political environments in different calendar years. These macro factors and conditions affect people of all ages at the same time (known as period effects) and change over time. Even within the same generation, there are variations between the younger and the older subgroups. The interplay of age, cohort, and period effects makes it a challenging endeavor to compare generational mobility preferences and behavioral decisions. Most existing studies performed point-to-point comparisons between generational cohorts. Inconsistent findings from these studies may result from the different time points they selected for comparison. The proposed project aims at contributing to the ongoing inquiry on cross-generational travel characteristics. with a focused study on vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Specifically, the study utilizes eight U.S. national travel surveys between 1969-2017 and creates a synthetic time series dataset for average Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. The synthetic dataset enables us to perform time series analysis using ARIMA models to compare VMT trends over a continuous age range of 5~36 (the oldest Millennials was 36 in 2017) across generations. The proposed study is expected to shed new lights on understanding Millennials’ travel patterns comparing to other generations. Knowledge gained from the study supports better informed decisions for both private business and public policies.


    • English


    • Status: Completed
    • Funding: $15000
    • Contract Numbers:


    • Sponsor Organizations:

      Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

      University Transportation Centers Program
      Department of Transportation
      Washington, DC  United States  20590
    • Managing Organizations:

      Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

      University Transportation Centers Program
      Department of Transportation
      Washington, DC  United States  20590
    • Project Managers:

      Stearns, Amy

    • Performing Organizations:

      Cooperative Mobility for Competitive Megaregions (CM2)

      University of Texas at Austin
      Austin, TX  United States  78712
    • Principal Investigators:

      Zhang, Ming

    • Start Date: 20210101
    • Expected Completion Date: 20220731
    • Actual Completion Date: 20220527
    • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01847468
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: Cooperative Mobility for Competitive Megaregions (CM2)
    • Contract Numbers: 69A3551747135
    • Files: UTC, RIP
    • Created Date: May 28 2022 10:19AM