Gen-Y: the Most Influential Segment, and What That Means to Transportation

Categories: Infrastructure

By Drew Olsen, Industry Strategy – Transportation, Autodesk

My parents were Baby Boomers, the largest, most influential generation in the history of the United States.  Big homes, big automobiles, two-income families – all of that BOOMED with this generation. I’m Gen-X- the generation that is tech-savvy, although we didn’t grow up on technology the way our kids have. And most of us like to think we are still influential, but as a generation, we haven’t been as influential as the Baby boomers and we aren’t even as influential as Generation Y.  Already, this generation is already influencing considerably more than technology.


Have you thought about this? Some are now finishing college, entering the workforce, and buying homes.  And more importantly, Gen-Y has been making purchase decisions from an even earlier age than any of us did.  And their purchase decisions influence marketers and manufacturers alike. 

Why does all of this matter as we think about transportation? They are fast becoming the leading decision makers.  In Ken Gronbach’s book The Age Curve he talks about how the number of Gen Y has already surpassed the Baby Boomers – the generation we think is still the most influential.  In his book, he talks about his extensive research on how the size of a generation is one of the biggest indicators of influence and change.

Listen to this podcast with the author of The Age Curve, Ken Gronbach and Terry Bennett [senior industry strategist for civil infrastructure at Autodesk] for more on Ken’s research and the implications it has on the US transportation industry.

What you will hear is that Gen Y is largest generation in history – 86 million: that is 8 million larger than the Boomers. Their ideas will shape our future just as the Baby Boomers shaped it before.  But it will be vastly different than that of their grandparents’ generation.  They think differently – their opinions on social issues, the economy, and the environment is different. And, this is going influence our future. Given the 50-70 year lifecycle of infrastructure systems (roads, highways water, power, sewer, rail, etc.) accounting for the “Age Curve” impact will drive changes in production (both intellectual & physical), demand (the way customers and consumers determine infrastructure need and relevance) and finally the resulting products (infrastructure assets) themselves that are ultimately delivered.

Just as the boomers did in their time, Gen Y will influence the future of, well everything – from elections, to housing, to automobile industry to expectations of the workplace.  And get this, Ken tells us that Gen-Y doesn’t have the love -affair with automobile that previous generations have had.  In fact, he notes that only one-half of the Gen Y population in the US has a license to drive. This isn’t just an indicator for the manufacturers in Detroit; this is an indicator for transportation systems.  Ken also told us that more of this generation is living in urban centers (60-70%). 

From a transportation perspective, if they are this influential and the majority of them live in urban centers, we will see this influence and shape the mobility requirements of those cities.  Generation X predominately has worried about are we building infrastructure right – mistake free.  Generation Y is worried about much more than this – they are concerned are we building the right infrastructure for them?

That could mean that this generation will influence the transportation requirements and investment for the future.

And, because this generation is so tech savvy and connected, we think there will be an expectation of how they interact with these transportation systems – what information they can access easily, how they can influence change and most importantly how they can promote and influence sustainability.

And for more on this as it relates to transportation, check out this BIM on the Rocks blog post: Transportation in the new era of connection.