Speed Reads

Mind the Gap

Gen Z is historically slow getting driver's licenses. Boomers aren't letting theirs go.

Olivia Rodrigo is, evidently, an anomaly. Unlike the singer, who got her driver's license at age 16 in 2020 and recorded a hit song about it a year later, most members of Generation Z (born 1996 to 2012) do not get their license before age 18 anymore, according to Federal Highway Administration data and multiple surveys. In 2021, 25 percent of U.S. 16-year-olds and 42 percent of 17-year-olds had a driver's license. 

In 1997, 43 percent of 16-year-olds and 62 percent of 17-year-olds had their driver's license, The Washington Post noted Monday. "Even older members of Gen Z are lagging behind their millennial counterparts. In 1997, almost 90 percent of 20- to 25 year-olds had licenses; in 2020, it was only 80 percent." 

U.S. driver's license data by age and sex, 2021

U.S. Driver's Licenses, 2021

Federal Highway Administration

The Post runs through several reasons for this shift away from car culture — cost of auto insurance, fear of accidents, environmental and climate concerns, comfort with public transportation, and ride-sharing apps, among them. "If there's an emergency, I'll call an Uber or 911," Philadelphia resident Madison Corr, 24, told the Post.

But if Gen Z is shunning cars, the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are holding tight to the wheel. In 2021, 91 percent of older boomers — age 70 to 74 — had a driver's license, versus about 85 percent in 1997. And an eye-catching 69 percent of Americans 85 and older still had their driver's license in 2021 (including 88 percent of 85+ men). That's a "hefty increase from 43 percent in 1997," the Post notes.

"Millennials went through a similar phase" in their teen years, the Post reports, and though many of them got their license and joined the commuting masses when they got married, had kids, and/or moved out of urban centers, they still drive less than Gen X and the boomers at similar life stages, according to a 2021 study

"It's too early to tell if the same will be true for Generation Z," the Post writes. After all, "its youngest members are only 10 years old, and the COVID-19 pandemic has likely interrupted some driving plans of older Gen Zers." But if the trend holds, U.S. carbon emissions will drop, as will car sales, and public policy will have to adapt. You can read more about Gen Z and driving at The Washington Post.