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August 03, 2015

Americans are driving less, and it's not just because of millennials

Gas consumption is 25 percent less than 2003 projections

Americans are using much less gas than researchers predicted they would be using a decade ago – and it’s not just millennials we’ve got to thank for this trend, but baby boomers too.

Petroleum consumption has been “rather unbelievably” decreasing, according to a report from President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. Americans use over 19 million barrels of gas per day, but that’s 25 percent less than projections made in 2003 predicted. Overall, we are guzzling 6.4 million fewer barrels of gas each day than expected.

And that this all happened even though U.S. production of gas has boomed, increasing by over three million barrels a day between 2008 and 2014.

Rising fuel economy standards and an increase in ethanol use partially explain why Americans are using less gas, but the main reason is that they’re driving less.

Millennials may seem like the obvious explanation here, and there is some evidence supporting that theory. People younger than 40 drove five percent less in 2009 than people that age did in 1990, the report says. What’s more, a recent poll from the National Association of Realtors shows that 83 percent of millennials said they liked walking while only 71 percent said they liked driving.

Yet it may be the baby boomers who really should get the credit here.

“The elderly typically drive fewer miles than younger adults, and the share of elderly in the population has increased over the past decade as the baby boom generation has aged,” the report says.

Using less gas helps the environment, since petroleum accounts for 40 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions.

But it also has a serious effect on the economy, to the tune of $150 billion. That’s how much money Americans save at the pump each year thanks to lower gas usage.

“The decline in petroleum consumption dramatically improves our international trade position compared to what was projected, and means U.S. consumers have about $150 billion annually to spend in the American economy (and their local economies) than if they drove more,” wrote urban economist Joe Cortright.

So thank millennials for driving less, but be sure to thank Grandma, too.