Max Fisher discusses the data reported in a newly published Carnegie Endowment paper, which upends traditional ideas about car usage. It turns out that car ownership rates are higher in nearly every Western European country than in the United States. "The U.S. is ranked 25th in world by number of passenger cars per person, just above Ireland and just below Bahrain," observes Fisher. "There are 439 cars here for every thousand Americans, meaning a little more than two people for every car."
So what explains this state of affairs? "The Carnegie paper explains that car ownership rates are closely tied to the size of the middle class," explains Fisher. "In fact, the paper [titled "In Search of the Global Middle Class: A New Index"] actually measures car ownership rates for the specific purpose of using that number to predict middle class size."
So does the data indicate that the US has a disproportionately small middle class? Fisher isn't convinced: "Still, it's also possible that the answer has less to do with Americans adhering to Carnegie's thesis about car ownership predicting middle class size and more to do with other, particularly American factors. Young Americans are spending less of their money on cars, as Jordan Weissmann explained, as they get driver's licences at lower rates and spend more of their money on, say, high-tech smart phones."