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So Long, Material Girl: Millennials Aren’t Impressed By Flashy Spending

Millennials office workMillennials office work
Don't impose. Empower.Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Attitudes toward car and home ownership are rapidly changing in America and globally, with a majority of people saying they value material goods less than they used to, according to a new survey commissioned by Ford (F).

The Ford Trends Survey 2016 found that 73% of Americans care less about material possessions than they did in the past, and nearly 64% agreed that personal wealth is an outdated measure of success.

There were some stark divergences among gender and generational lines. Where more than 85% of women aged 18-29 said they were annoyed by people who were flashy with their money, just 68% of young men did—the lowest number of any sampled cohort. Nearly 77% of young women said they cared less about material goods than they had in the past, while only 56% of young men agreed with that sentiment.

Why does this matter to Ford? “There was a saying in the baby boomer generation: ‘A car is the most expensive suit you’ll ever own,'” Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s global consumer trends and futuring manager, explains. “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a millennial who agrees with that analogy.”

Like any car manufacturer, ownership trends are important to Ford, whose Lincoln brand has an average ownership age of 61 (the highest in the industry, per a 2014 survey.) And auto industry economists estimate that four millennial customers are required to replace one baby boomer, as nowadays, those under 35 are typically saddled with student debts, are loathe to commit to costly auto loans or leases, or live in urban areas, where public transport and ride-sharing options like Uber negate the need to own a car.

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Ford, on its part, is trying a number of initiatives to get younger drivers engaged in the brand. Its Focus RS and ST models are “hot hatches” aimed squarely at winning over fans of high-performance Honda Civics and their ilk. Its Sync 3 infotainment software is leaps beyond the ill-fated MyFord Touch of nearly a decade ago. And FordPass, unveiled in January at the North American International Auto Show, is a step toward the future, where 113-year-old car companies like Ford are able to become mobility service providers.