• Nov 13, 2012
Diane Spitaliere says she wants to be in her own car fo... Diane Spitaliere says she wants to be in her own car for as long as possible (Credit: AP).
WASHINGTON - Women have passed men on the nation's roads. More women than men now have driver's licenses, a reversal of a longtime gender gap behind the wheel that transportation researchers say is likely to have safety and economic implications.

If current trends continue, the gap will only widen. The share of teens and young adults of both sexes with driver's licenses is declining, but the decline is greater for young men, according to a study by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute. The study looked at gender trends in driver's licenses between 1995 and 2010.

"The changing gender demographics will have major implications on the extent and nature of vehicle demand, energy consumption, and road safety," predicted Michael Sivak, co-author of the study. Women are more likely than men to purchase smaller, safer and more fuel-efficient cars; to drive less, and to have a lower fatality rate per distance driven, he said.

Over the 15 years the study covered, the share of men ages 25 to 29 years old with driver's licenses dropped 10.6 percent. The share of women of the same age with driver's licenses declined by about half that amount, 4.7 percent.

Male drivers outnumbered women drivers from the moment the first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908, the year the automobile became popular, and through most of the last century. In the 1950s, when only about half of adult women had driver's licenses, jokes about women drivers were a staple of comedians.

But the gap gradually closed. By 1995, men with driver's licenses slightly outnumbered women, 89.2 million to 87.4 million. By 2010, 105.7 million women had licenses, compared with 104.3 million men.

Likewise, in 1995 men with driver's licenses outnumbered women in every age group except those over 70. By 2010, women outnumbered men among drivers ages 45 and older and between ages 25 and 29 years old. The share of older women who are also on hanging onto their driver's licenses has also increased.

"I want to be in my own car for as long as possible. I want to be independent for as long as I can," said Diane Spitaliere, 58, a retired government worker in Alexandria, Va.

Male drivers under age 44 are still slightly more numerous than women of the same age, but that's only because young men outnumber young women in the general population, the study said. There now are 105 boys born each year for every 100 girls in the U.S. Women outnumber men later in life because they live longer - an average of 80 years for women, compared with about 75 years for men.

Rising Internet usage may be part of the reason for the decline in the share young drivers, especially young men, Sivak said. A previous study by the transportation institute published earlier this year found that countries that have higher Internet usage also have a lower licensure rate of teens and young adults.

"There is some suggestive evidence that Internet contact is reducing the need for personal contact," he said.

Other researchers have theorized that digital media and technology may make driving less desirable and public transportation more convenient. Texting while driving is dangerous and illegal in most states, but there's no risk to texting or working on a laptop while riding a bus or train. Some transit systems have been seeing significant increases in riders.

Another reason for the growing disinterest among young men in driving may be the erosion of the "car-fetish society," travel behavior analyst Nancy McGuckin said. "Today's young adults grew up in the back seat of cars stalled in congestion, hearing their folks swear at the endless traffic. Nothing romantic about that!"

It is also "no longer cool, or even possible, to work on your own vehicle. The engines are so complex most people don't even change their own oil," she said. "Independence, freedom, being able to customize the car to reflect you - these are not part of young people's association with vehicles."

There also may be economic reasons for the shift, McGuckin's research indicates. Employment of 16- to 24-year-olds as a share of all workers has declined. At the same time, the rate of young men ages 18 to 34 years old living at home has been going up and is greater than the rate of young women living at home.

It may be that unemployment and underemployment have made auto insurance unaffordable for young men, said Alan Pisarski, author of the Transportation Research Board's comprehensive "Commuting in America" reports on U.S. travel trends. "Insurance for males under 25 is just colossally expensive," he said.

There has also been a sharp decline in vehicle trips and the number of miles traveled by vehicle for 16- to 29-year old males, according to McGuckin's analysis of massive government travel surveys between 1990 and 2009. The declines for women were not as great.

"The car companies are very worried," she said.

Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the alliance is aware that the share of teens and young adults obtaining driver licenses is dropping, although the association hasn't seen the research on the gender differences.

"Some research has shown that young adults today connect with their friends through their smartphones, but at some point younger consumers still need to get from here to there, and a car is still a priority where public transportation is unavailable or limited," she said. "This is especially true for younger adults when they enter the workforce."


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  • 19 Comments
      starsstripes767
      • 2 Years Ago
      Well, I'm a guy stuck in the old ways, car obssessed, I'm as bad as Jay Leno...A car from the 1990s is not much different than a car from the 1950s. The only difference is that you have fuel injection and airbags. If you know what you are doing, you can Hot Rod a "modern classic" from the late 70s-mid 90s fairly easily. Now cars made within the last 10 years, however, are so computerized, so complicated, and in the case of hybrid and electric, very dangerous to work on by yourself. I agree with increasing insurance rates having something to do with it. But I also might guess that women don't take these things for granted like men do, women didn't always have these rights. Yes, I have seen many men who have the balls to knock up a girl (or shouldn't have playing around anyway) but don't have the balls to take care of it, so the number of single moms, working themsleves to death has jumped...thats my guess.
        robsphase
        • 2 Years Ago
        @starsstripes767
        You need to educate yourself. There are plenty of "single moms" because over 75% of divorces are initiated by women. Why? They know the courts will usually give them custody or at least more than a man. This means they get money to raise kids alone even though they chose to. I am one of the few men that fought for my kids and won. My only child currently under 18 lives with me 100% of the time. His mother doesn't pay a penny in support, dead beat mom, there are plenty of them but it's not PC so nobody talks about it. How many women teachers molest male students? The penalty? Much less than a man would get. A woman gets pregnant and keeps the kid, the man wanted an abortion, too bad he pays support for at least 18yrs. The woman doesn't want it and the man does? To bad, the woman can kill your kid. Get the full truth before you post, there are plenty of good single fathers.
      Bill
      • 2 Years Ago
      The male of the species is becomming more and more irresponsible. There are more that cannot hold down a job and there are more single parent homes with no father present. It should be no suprise that there are fewer young male drivers as well.
        lklex
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Bill
        You must be the darling of male-bashing feminists. In reality, the "male of the specie"s is becoming more and more marginalized and more and more discriminated against based on gender. Virtually all de jure sex discrimination in the U.S. operates in favor of women and against men.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I am sorry but the fatality rate stats will soon change, seeing as there are now less men drivers than women, and that yes women are more careful, but women are also, let's be nice, dumber on the road
      • 2 Years Ago
      Well men generally have much BETTER personalities and nasty attitudes than women. I am also a whole lot more mature than most of the women I meet.
      frank1946
      • 2 Years Ago
      New Normal has kids looking for meaning in other ways. Seems like time for simpler lifestyles. Maybe simpler cars ?
      • 2 Years Ago
      Automakers where started by men and continued by men, most women don't care about their cars and are confused at the sight of a simple car battery failure, while men can fix it in a snap. If automakers start to make cars for the women market more than cars for the man market, then they are crazy. Luckily I know that my favorite type of manufacturers, sports and super car manufacturers like lotus, McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Noble, Ascari, Arrinera, etc will still make road eating beasts developed for the true petrol head male market. But if regular car manufacturers like Nissan, Chevrolet, ford, Acura/Honda, ETC turn their heads away from their amazing road eating sports cars like Nissan Z line of sports cars, or Chevrolets corvette and camaro, or fords mustang, or Acura/Hondas NSX and s2000, then this world has gone mad and all the women who don't care about cars should have their licence stripped away to get the car manufacturing business back on track.I am not saying that all women don't care about their cars, I am just saying that the majority don't, while ALL men have at least some interest in their cars
        • 2 Years Ago
        oh I forgot Nissans amazing GTR superCAR. sorry. If anyone wants to know a list on every sports car mainstream manufacturers made, ask me
      • 2 Years Ago
      Well, everything about men isn't negative so let'ts not say that. I can say that women are mainly bitches for the way they treat me.
      mmmmmmmmmm
      • 2 Years Ago
      goood for them,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
      robsphase
      • 2 Years Ago
      What's the point of this article? There are more women on this earth than men. Hence, more drivers licenses should be for women. If cock roaches could get a license there would be more cock roaches with a license than anything else. If there is a larger number what else would a person expect?
      • 2 Years Ago
      If you think Gloria`s story is unbelievable,, last week my uncle basically got a cheque for $6478 sitting there a fifteen hour week at home and their roomate's mom`s neighbour has done this for four months and earned more than $6478 in there spare time at there mac. follow the instructions available at this link, Cloud65.com
      janka51
      • 2 Years Ago
      i thought you meant wrecks
      lklex
      • 2 Years Ago
      Compared to American men, American women are: more likely to be enrolled in college; less likely to die young from cancer or heart disease; more likely to live longer; more likely to have access to health care; less likely to be homeless; less likely to be the victim of suicide or homicide; less likely to be seriously or fatally injured at the workplace; less likely to be punished as harshly for committing the same criminal offense; far less likely to receive the death penalty for first degree murder; and, now, more likely to have a driver's license. With a second Obama administration, all those gender gaps -- in favor of women -- are certain to grow -- like a cancer.
        Jennifer T.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @lklex
        Whose fault is that? Men are free to go to college if they want to. If men are in decline (what is the male/female ratio in government positions?), then that is their choice,or probably due to the absence of fathers in their son's lives.
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