Millennials Not That Into 'Things' and That Goes for Cars Too

Millennials are often derided for their affinity for their tech devices. Lucas Jackson/Reuters

2013 was a banner year for the millennial trend piece. We learned that millennials are compulsive self-branders, overgrown fixtures of their parents' basements, reckless propagators of empty culture, and perhaps most of all, unabashedly lazy materialists.

Yet while they're often attacked for being self absorbed, evidence suggests the millennial generation shares and even surpasses the older generations on one virtue: the rejection of materialism.

Millennials are no more materialistic than their parents, and perhaps even less so when it comes to transportation, according to an online poll released last week by the car-sharing company Zipcar.

Of the 1,009 individuals polled, 61% of those under 34 said they prioritize life experiences over possessions, a nearly identical sentiment as that of the over-35 set (62% of whom prioritize experiences).

Yet unlike their parents, young people do not place much weight on having a car in the garage. Not surprisingly given the company who commissioned the poll, the questions veer toward transportation. More than half of the millennials polled said they were open to using alternative forms of transportation, like public transit and car-sharing, and a similar rate (53%) said high costs made owning a car difficult. Car ownership is so low on millennials' priorities list, in fact, that 17% of 18-24 year olds don't even have a license, and nearly 40 percent believe that losing their phone would be a bigger detriment to their lives than losing their automobile. More than 40% of older people said they would rank the loss of their car as a greater hardship.

The auto industry, whose recovery has recently been dubbed "subpar," is feeling what may be the effect of millennials' apparent lack of enthusiasm for car ownership. Members of the boomer generation were 15 times more likely to buy a new car in 2011 than millennials, according to data from the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

For a generation acutely aware of having come of age in a recession, avoiding the financial burden of car ownership is more attractive than a shiny new ride. That doesn't sound much like reckless materialism--perhaps those trend pieces need a tune-up.