The proportion of older male drivers on US roads is declining, which will affect vehicle demand, energy consumption and road safety, University of Michigan researchers say.
"Females are more likely than males to purchase smaller, safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles, they drive less and tend to have a lower fatality rate per distance driven," says Michael Sivak, a research professor at the university's Transportation Research Institute.
The researchers found that, in 1995, male drivers outnumbered female drivers for each age group up to 70, but today that is true only up to age 45.
Also, the percentage of males with driving licences decreased from 1995 to 2010 for those younger than 60.
For females, the decrease occurred for those younger than 50.
Researchers say a likely cause is a rise in electronic communication, such as cellphones and the internet, which are used more by men, reducing the need for contact.
The researchers predict the trend likely will continue.
"One possible interpretation of the finding that the decrease in licensure rate has been greater for males than for females is that males are relying more on electronic communication than females," says Sivak. "Because virtual contact through electronic means is reducing the need for actual contact, driving demand has been reduced more for males than for females."
Using data from the Federal Highway Administration and US Census Bureau, Sivak and colleague Brandon Schoettle examined recent changes in the gender demographics of US drivers from 1995 to 2010.
"Our data indicate that the shift toward having more female than male drivers has been a gradual one that has continued throughout the 15 years examined.
"While in 1995 male drivers outnumbered female drivers, the opposite was the case in 2010.
"Furthermore, we expect that this trend is likely to continue in the future, further increasing the relative proportion of female drivers."
Sivak and Schoettle say that changing gender demographics will have major implications on the extent and nature of vehicle demand, energy consumption and road safety.