What Gender Gap? How Women Are Driving Car Buying

Driver in front of a car
Driver in front of a car | Uber.com

Car-shopping stereotypes are about to be turned upside down — and it will more than likely make life a lot easier for all parties involved. New research from Edmunds.com has revealed that the “antiquated generalizations” of yesteryear don’t necessarily apply to today’s millennial car shopper. Today, women often earn just as much as men and their spouses have complete faith in their shopping preferences.

Gender roles have been slowly but surely getting turned on their heads courtesy of an increasingly progressive generation of shopper, and this latest research is a massive revelation regarding the direction in which both car buying and gender stereotypes are heading. What Edmunds discovered was that of the 3,000 U.S. adults between age 18 and 65 polled, millennial men and women were “more alike in their feelings towards car shopping than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers,” which means the car shopping landscape is about to change big time.

Ford advertisement for women from the 1950s
Ford advertisement for women from the 1950s | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Edmunds started off by asking people if they believed that women are equal to or better than men at car shopping, to which 64% of millennial women and 54% of millennial men surveyed agreed. But when baby boomers were faced with the same question, more women admitted to being the more savvy shopper (67%), while just 48% of men conceded, which breaks down to an opinion gap that’s damn near twice as large.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analytics at Edmunds, told us over the phone that a “[millennial] woman’s influence in households is massive” when considering large ticket item purchases, and a lot of it has to do with changing gender roles. More women than ever before are in charge of making decisions traditionally tackled by men, and Caldwell says a lot of that doesn’t just have to do with women making as much (if not more) money than their partners, but in how they prefer to conduct online research in order to save time and money.

“The world where millennials grew up was very different than that of older generations. For many, both parents worked and financial decisions were made equally, which is reflected in their different attitudes about gender roles in car shopping,” Caldwell explains. “Millennials are poised to become the predominate consumption group in the automotive industry, making it key that automakers, dealers, and marketers understand how their perceptions are changing the way consumers approach car buying.”

While more women feel assured that they made the right purchase than men (80% of women versus 75% of men), Edmunds found that just 30% of females polled admitted that they didn’t know where to start the car shopping process, as opposed to just 18% of all men. Then there was the fact that 67% of women said they wished there was a faster, more efficient car shopping experience out there, compared to 57% of all men, the gender that is more likely to visit car lots in order to shop around. Bearing this in mind, Edmunds’ top minds believe that a personalized car shopping experience remains the ultimate angle for automakers if they want to truly appeal to both sexes, even though roping in both men and women while keeping them happy with a particular vehicle is easier said than done.

Couple both using their phones
Couple both using their phones | iStock

While men and women both research new inventory information and dealership facts, a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t always work. This isn’t a jar of organic peanut butter we are talking about here, but a complex, completely customizable, multi-trim-lined, expensive piece of engineering that you depend upon to get you safely to, from, and anywhere in between on a moment’s whim. Since individual shoppers have different requirements during the many stages of the car buying process, Edmunds had to factor in gender based needs very carefully. A millennial female luxury buyer requires a completely different laundry list of shopping tools and answers than a Gen X male looking for a work truck, a point that Edmunds backs up via site engagement data.

“With amount of consumer data available to us, we’re no longer forced to look at shoppers under the lens of these over-generalized stereotypes,” says Michelle Shotts, senior director of customer insights at Edmunds. “As more research continues to debunk these outdated assumptions, there is no excuse why automakers, dealers, and marketers can’t begin to engage with car shoppers on a highly personalized, individual level.”

A few noteworthy differences Edmunds discovered between millennials and older generations include:

  • Millennial men are more likely than older men to believe that women are equally or more logical than men during the car shopping process. There was a 15 percentage point gap in gender opinion for millennials (59% of men vs. 74% of women), compared to a 27-point gap among Generation Xers (52% of men vs. 79% of women).
  • Millennial men and women feel nearly equal levels of self-assurance and empowerment during the car shopping process, with a gap of only 1% and 2% respectively between the genders, according to Edmunds. This gap widens within the older generations, to 8% for Gen Xers and 14% for boomers.
  • When it comes time to close the deal and purchase the vehicle, millennial men are more confident in women than men in older generations. 60% of millennial men say that women are stronger negotiators versus 50% of Gen X men and 49% of boomer men.

While Edmunds’ senior director of customer insight, Michelle Shotts, assures us that “millennial women are the purchasers of the future,” not everyone believes this future will be here tomorrow. Lacey Plache, chief economist at Edmunds, is of strong mind that until gender inequality is completely eliminated, “the old fashion notion that men control the garage will [likely] still linger.”