Echo Booming – The Peter Pan Generation

By Dan Sherman

Peter PanAccording to Billy Joel, when “you’re 21 and your mother still makes your bed…that’s too long”.  Well, my peers don’t care for Captain Jack.  Wikipedia—the Echo Boomers’ Tree of Life—labels us the Peter Pan Generation due to our “penchant for delaying some of the rites of passage into adulthood longer than most generations before [us]”.  We also, supposedly, tend to live with our parents longer.  I’d argue that we celebrate hitting the drinking age harder than older folks, but then, the government did delay it for us.  Basically, Wikipedia and Uncle Sam are both calling us a bunch of big babies.

The management at Sorgenfrei expressed concern that getting a driver’s license might be one of those delayed rites of passage.  Gen X-er Joe LaMuraglia claims that today’s kids don’t share the eagerness to get their driver’s licenses as soon as legally possible like back in his day.  It probably dents my car-geek rep that even I waited for 8 months after my 17th birthday.  My little brother Ben was also reluctant to drive, and he still tends to let his ES300 sit in the driveway in favor of our parental chauffeurs.  Do other Echo Boomers have the same reluctance to grow up?

But first, let’s consider what this would do to the industry: If we continue to postpone driving and Generation Z follows suit, younger brands like Scion will suffer with their core demographic.  They’d have to slide the maturity knob on their cars from Altezza taillights and obnoxiously bright green paint to understated lip spoilers and metallic silver.  More apocalyptic: if high school girls preferred to be ferried around by parents and BFs, Sarah MacLachlan would have to forego the tragic shelter dog TV ads in favor of “Save the used Jettas”.

I informally polled 25 Echo Boomers, all around the age of 20, to figure out when they got their driver’s licenses.  The average differential between license acquisition and legal driving age worked out to about 6 months.  The chief procrastinators waited over 2 years to get their licenses.  While Generation Y puts off driving a bit, I doubt the delay is much more pronounced than in previous generations.  The top three reasons given were road test failure, laziness, and inability to take a Driver’s Ed course in time—which is now more commonly mandated than in the past.

Manufacturers don’t have all that much to worry about, and Volkswagen dealerships shouldn’t be worried about taking Jetta trade-ins.  Even Peter Pan has his driver’s license in Neverland.

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5 thoughts on “Echo Booming – The Peter Pan Generation

  1. Peter, this is a great application of analysis of external determinants to evaluate the impact for an industry. So, first, thank you for that.

    Related to delays in acquiring one’s license, I wonder if there is an urban/rural divide. I grew up in a very rural community where it was and still is expected that you will get your license on your 16th birthday. For high school I went to a boarding school and had to wait until I came home for an extended weekend to get my license. To my friends from childhood the fact that I didn’t get my license until almost two full weeks (!!!!) after my 16th birthday was unthinkable. The fact that I was not allowed to have a car at school was irrelevant. This was in 1991. I can think of any number of reasons why the urge to get a license would be stronger in rural communities: lack of alternatives such as public transport, long distances between likely destinations and a higher cultural preference for self-reliance.

    In the decades since 1991 more states have instituted limitations on night driving and the number of passengers for new drivers. I wonder to what extent these new rules have diminished the value of the license for the youngest drivers who now have a form of “provisional” license. Many young people no doubt weight the benefits against the costs– particularly the considerable cost of private driver’s education and car insurance, and decide it’s not worth it.

  2. Dan Sherman says:

    Hi August,

    First of all, thank you very much for your thoughtful comments.

    I can confirm a rural/urban divide, particularly at the extremes. My roommate from New York City waited 2 years to get his license, whereas my friends from middle Georgia and “real” Virginia got their licenses ASAP. Where matters become fuzzy is suburbia, like my hometown on Long Island, NY. We tend to have a lack of transportation alternatives, medium distances, and a low cultural preference for self-reliance.

    Since the graduated license laws vary considerably state-to-state, let’s take New York as an example. Permit age is 16, junior license age is 16.5, and full license age is 17 or 18, depending on whether driver’s ed was completed. Junior licenses are worthless in NYC, highly restricting on Long Island, and less restricting upstate.

    The vast majority of my high school enrolled in driver’s ed and passed their road tests prior to their 18th birthdays. However, most took driver’s ed through the school, which accepted a limited number of pupils in descending age order. Even for the most eager, driver’s ed certificates would take a *minimum* of 6 months to get; more likely it would take over a year. Nobody made a big deal over those; the main focus was getting a full license before turning 18.

  3. Robert Ampthor says:

    Interesting analysis indeed. I mandated that my sons had to reach certain other goals (i.e. Eagle Scout) before the license was achievable. They managed both and the license was only delayed about 6 months from 16. Another macro factor may be the economy in that parents aren’t as able to furnish a car as before or the savings by the teen for that prize aren’t there. Requirements have changed with driver’s ed now on your time and dime.

  4. […] over the past couple of years, we have been dubbed anything from the Boomerang Generation to the Peter Pan Generation, because – apparently – we are simply refusing to grow up. And to a lot of self-involved, […]

  5. Noelle says:

    Didn’t they say the exact same thing about young people in the ’90s? I think there were several movies and a number of episodes of 20/20 devoted to it. I don’t quite understand our nation’s fetish with generations, but it genuinely disturbs me that, based on what I’m hearing from ‘the experts’, we’re traipsing through the second iteration of ’90s youth culture and no one but me seems to have noticed.

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