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Impact of Baby Boomers on U.S. Travel, 1969-2009

The Baby Boom Generation has fueled much of the growth in travel over the past 40 years—both in the number of travelers and in the amount of travel per person. This paper describes economic, residential, and cultural changes at the center of this historic growth in travel, through analysis of four decades of travel data.

Baby boomers started driving at a young age, and both young men and women entered the workforce with more education than previous generations. Many boomers acquired “his” and “hers” cars, spread a housing boom to the suburban fringes, and, with the advent of dual-earner families, “outsourced” household support such as day care and eating out, that required travel. As a result, the number of vehicles nearly tripled during the past four decades, travel rates have more than doubled, and total vehicle miles of travel grew at more than twice the rate of population growth. Since 1977, travel for household maintenance trips (nonwork) grew fivefold.

More recently, year-over-year increases in vehicle miles of travel has stalled. Researchers and policymakers wonder if these declines indicate a historic turning point or are simply a product of the economic downturn that will rebound when the economy recovers. Are the baby boomers, after decades of high vehicle use, shifting some of their travel to other means? Another question is how the retirement of boomers will influence the broad range of senior transportation strategies that address the travel needs of older adults. To meet evolving transportation needs, both public and private investments will be needed, as well as continued research in new technologies and individual mobility planning.