Why do immigrants drive less? Confirmations, complications, and new hypotheses from a qualitative study in New Jersey, USA

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - car, mode - mass transit, place - north america


Immigration, Travel behavior, Sustainability, Residential choice, Public transit


Recent immigrants to the United States drive autos less than the US-born, with rapid increases in their ownership and use of autos over time, and a persistently lower level of auto use even when controlling for socioeconomic characteristics and time in the US. Quantitative studies have not yet explained these phenomena. Given that population growth in the US is largely dependent on immigration, understanding auto ownership and use among immigrants is important for transportation sustainability.

We conducted six focus groups with US residents born in India, the Philippines, and Latin America. Our findings confirm, complicate and contradict the existing literature explaining differences in auto use among immigrants and the US-born, and we identify some new hypotheses with implications for policy-relevant research. More difficult driving conditions in the US and remittances back home may contribute to the initially lower auto ownership and use among immigrants. The rapid transition to auto use may be a function of household changes having more dramatic effects among immigrants given their initially high-density residential locations. The growth of non-English speaking transit riders, an increase in private transit services, and different residential location priorities may all contribute to the persistently lower auto use by immigrants even after many years in the US.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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