It's Not Just Young People Who Are Giving Up On Ownership

Gelatobaby/CC BY 2.0

Recently I wrote Staying Connected May Be Worth More To Young People Than A Set Of Wheels, discussing Jordan Weissman's Atlantic article Why Are Young People Ditching Cars for Smartphones?

Since then, the Atlantic has been on a tear on the subject, with a lead article in the print edition, The Cheapest Generation: Why Millennials aren’t buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.

Much of it has to do with the fact that Millennials are broke and under-employed. But I think there really is a change going on here, and I don't think it is limited to millennials. So-called middle class people in every generation are pretty much in the same boat and are doing the same thing, and much of the change has to do with technology. From the article:

“Zipcar conducted a survey of Millennials,” Mark Norman, the company’s president and chief operating officer, told us. “And this generation said, ‘We don’t care about owning a car.’ Cars used to be what people aspired to own. Now it’s the smartphone.”....

In other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending.

When people decide that they don't need cars, it immediately affects their choice of where they live. It makes suburban life almost impossible. Thompson and Weismann write:

“The types of properties young people are buying now are different from what [that age group] bought five years ago,” said Shannon Williams King, the vice chair of strategic planning at the National Association of Realtors. “They are within walking distance of shopping centers. These buyers want bike shares and Zipcar. They like feeling connected.”

The authors were deluged with responses to the article, that break down into two categories; those that basically say "Stop pretending like social trends have anything to do with the weak auto and housing market. It's the Great Recession, stupid." and those that wax eloquent about 'the Freedom of Not Owning'

I concluded my last post noting that "This is just the start. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower's massive public investment in the highway system changed the way America lived and worked; we are ankle deep into a change just as significant." We are just beginning to see the impact of the dematerialization revolution, and it's not just about the Millennials, it is going to affect everyone.

More in the Atlantic and Atlantic Cities:
Young People Aren't Buying Cars Because They're Buying Smart Phones Instead
Millennial Homeowners Are Especially Screwed
Why Aren't Twentysomethings Buying Cars or Houses?

Tags: Dematerialization | iPhone | Technology

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