Closing the Gender Gap: Women Drivers Now Outnumber Men

For the first moment in automotive history, there are now more women drivers than men.

Women driving more than men

Ladies, it may not be Women’s History Month, but it’s time to celebrate: for the first moment in history, more women have drivers licenses than men!

The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) recently examined gender trends in driver licensing over a 15-year span and found that women have not only closed the gender gap, we’ve also surpassed men in the licensing department.

Sure, this may not seem like a big achievement. But when we consider the fact that women were thought to be too delicate to drive 100 years ago, we can really see how far we’ve come.

The history of women drivers

As with any pivotal point in history, this development didn’t happen overnight. Rather, we owe it to those fearless female pioneers who led the charge. Here’s a look at some historical highlights.

1899: First licensed woman driver

During the Victorian era, a woman’s domain was thought to be the home. And driving, with its accompanying idea of masculine mobility, was thought unfeminine. Still, it didn’t stop Mrs. John Howell Phillips of Chicago, Illinois, from getting her drivers license. Her car of choice? A tri-motor, complete with a long steering handle, capable of hitting a whopping 18 mph.

1910: Women are the 5 percent (of drivers)

In 1910, women couldn’t vote, but we did have the right to drive. So hats off to that 5 percent of bold women for taking the wheel and hitting the dusty roads.

1914: Women join the war effort by driving for the Red Cross

With so many men fighting on the front during WWI, women (like modernist writer Gertrude Stein) were recruited to drive for the French and British Red Cross.

1960: 34 million drivers strong

Although there were more women drivers than ever in the 1960s, men still made up 61 percent of the driving population.

2000: Almost equal

A lot of things can change in 40 years. By Y2K, ladies made up 49.8 percent of drivers (about 94.8 million).

Today: Women drivers outnumber men

Recent stats reveal there are now 105.7 million women drivers. Men, on the other hand, have fallen behind, making up 104.3 million drivers.

According to UMTRI, the number of male drivers ages 25 to 29 has declined by 10.6 percent over the past 15 years, whereas the number of female drivers in the same age group only declined by 4.7 percent. And, since older women are keeping their licenses longer, you can see why women are winning this battle of the sexes.

What’s propelling the trend?

Researchers posit a few possible explanations:

  • Rising Internet usage reduces the need for in-person interaction, especially in young teen males
  • A sluggish economy means that fewer people have to commute to work
  • The cost of car ownership — the high cost of gas, maintenance, and insurance for drivers under 25 can add up in a hurry, making driving less attractive

Whatever the reason, if this trend continues, the gap could widen and lead to safer roads (women are safer drivers statistically), as well as smaller, more fuel-efficient cars (according to researchers, we also tend to be more practical when it comes to choosing our wheels). And that, in any book, is a good thing.

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