Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Oct 11th 2009 at 10:31am UTC

Driving Alone – A Quick and Dirty Analysis

Earlier this week Catherine Rampell posted this map over at Economix. It shows the percentages of workers who drove to work alone by state and is based on U.S. Census data.

D.C. has the lowest rate – a fact which was not lost on D.C. blogging circles. NY did well too.  The worst performers were Alabama, Tennessee, and Ohio, where about eight in 10 workers drive alone -  more than double that of D.C.

With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, we took a quick look at some factors that might be associated with this geographic pattern. It’s not an exhaustive list: We examined some key economic factors like income and economic output, human capital and the creative class, and psychological ones like happiness, stress, and personality. We removed D.C. from the analysis because it was such an extreme outlier. We did not develop or run any serious multivariate analysis – just simple correlations, or associations, between variables.

Still the findings point to some reasonably clear patterns.

Income and Economic Output: The richer the state, the less likely people were to drive alone. Driving alone was negatively correlated with state income levels (-.46) and output per capita (-.41).

Class and Human Capital
: States with higher percentages of college graduates (-.47) and the creative class (-.43) were less likely to have people driving alone. Driving alone was much more likely in states with large working class concentrations (.62).

Professional and Creative Jobs:
Driving alone was less likely in states with high concentrations of virtually every type of professional, knowledge-based and creative jobs. But it was least likely in states with large concentrations of artists, designers, and entertainers (-.63), architects and engineers (-.61), scientists (-.56 ), and lawyers (-.55).

Diversity – Immigrants and Gays
: Driving alone was less likely in states with high concentrations of immigrants (-.51) and gays (-.41).

Happiness research tells us that commuting is one of life’s least pleasurable activities.  Driving along was negatively associated with state levels of happiness and well-being (-.46) and positively associated with states with higher levels of stress (.29).

Psychologists identify five main personality types. Driving alone was more likely in states with high levels of three of them: extroverts (.29), conscientiousness (.36), and agreeableness (.44). Interestingly, there was no association between driving alone and the two other types – neurotic and openness to experience, which some might say makes it harder to explain New York.

5 Responses to “Driving Alone – A Quick and Dirty Analysis”

  1. Mike L. Says:

    This is thought-provoking. Would have expected Texas to be much higher.
    States with big cities where it is difficult to park have lower-than-I-would-have-expected numbers: NY (NYC), IL (Chicago), CA (San Francisco), MA (Boston), etc.
    But Texas ??? – almost all my colleagues in Texas drive to work alone ….

  2. Rob Says:

    States don’t seem like the proper geography to use for these regressions. Using aggregate data doesn’t tell you enough. DC, for example, is 100% urban. Wyoming, on the other hand, is completely rural. Many states are mixed, Texas has several major cities, as does California, and they also have vast rural areas. New York has a single mega-city and several mid-sized cities, as well as stretches of rural land.

    A more appropriate analysis would have looked at correlations at the MSA level. As it stands, these findings don’t really tell use what we actually want to know.

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  4. Deep Says:

    I agree with Rob, that it would be better to change the scale to say the county level. To paraphrase what James Carville said about my state, Pennsylvania: you have Philadelphia at one end, Pittsburgh at the other end, and Alabama in between. If you looked at the counties in Central PA(outside of State College, PA-home of Penn State), the percentages of people who drive to work alone would be on par with Alabama and Ohio. Philadelphia on the other hand has the 5th largest rail system in the US, and has seen a steady rise in ridership over the past 4-5 years.

  5. Buzzcut Says:

    Cost of living is a factor as well. I was just in Long Beach, and while wealthy from an income perspective, the cost of living is stupid high. I wasn’t exactly impressed with how people lived.

    So… my theory is that driving alone is an economic phenomenon. People do it if they can afford it, because it makes them more efficient. They’re not wasting time picking other people up, and time is money. That’s more true the higher up the income scale you go.

    Everybodys’ favorite subject, free parking, is no doubt a factor as well. ;)