Pew study finds younger adults driving growth of ride-hailing apps

If you’re wondering which demographic is driving usage of ride hailing apps in the U.S., new research by Pew suggests it’s very much young people who have their foot on the gas here.

That’s pretty unsurprising given the young are likely to have less disposable income than older adults; are probably going out more often or at least are going out frequently; and may be more likely to be aware of and comfortable using digital services vs some of their older counterparts.

Pew’s study more generally probes awareness of and attitudes to the so-called sharing economy, also looking at other examples such as homesharing (via the likes of Airbnb), and crowdfunding. But the researchers say they found a marked difference in how popular Uber, Lyft et al are with young people vs these other sharing economy/collaborative services.

According to the research, the median age of ride-hailing apps in the U.S. is 33, with 18- to 29-year-olds seven times more likely to use these services vs those aged 65 or above (28 per cent vs just four per cent).

Also as you’d expect it: young people living in urban areas are heavy ride-sharing users. As are those with relatively high levels of income and educational attainment.

Unsurprisingly the ride-sharing ‘revolution’ holds far less fascination for those living in rural areas — doubtless because there are far fewer Ubers plying their trade around country lanes.

In terms of general uptake of shared/on-demand platforms, Pew found that a substantial majority (72 per cent) of American adults have used at least one of 11 different shared/on-demand services it included in its questions to participants. While about one-in-five Americans have used four or more of these services, and seven per cent have used six or more.

By far the most popular types of services Pew asked about involve ecommerce related activities. The most popular was buying or selling second-hand goods online, followed by faster delivery services — which is perhaps not what comes to mind for most people when you say the phrase ‘sharing economy’. So the parameters of the study perhaps look a little generous at this point.

Pew says it surveyed more than 4,700 U.S. adults nationally in December last year for the research.


Ride-hailing apps, for example, are in fact only the sixth most popular service in this list. While working in a shared office space is ninth, and hiring someone for a task/errand is tenth. Short term clothes or product rental languishes at the bottom of the list, with only two per cent of Americans partaking in this type of sharing.

Pew does focus most of its attention in the study on three specific types of “new digital economy” platforms: ride-hailing apps, home-sharing services and crowdfunding sites.

Here it found that almost a third (28 per cent) of adult Americans have not used any of these major sharing/on-demand platforms.

It goes on to note that a large proportion are wholly unfamiliar with these types of services — saying 61 per cent of Americans have never heard of the term “crowdfunding”; 73 per cent are not familiar with the term “sharing economy”; and 89 per cent do not know what the “gig economy” is. Again, perhaps not too surprisingly given the woolliness around some of these concepts.

On the ride-hailing side, Pew’s findings include that 15 per cent of American adults have used a ride-hailing app, with three per cent saying they use these apps daily or weekly.

Of those Americans that do use ride-hailing, Pew found attitudes are overwhelmingly positive towards the services, with 86 per cent saying that they feel it saves them time and stress, and 80 per cent believing it offers good jobs to those who want flexible working hours. 

Awareness of the regulatory debates about ride-hailing is also very high among users of these apps, according to Pew’s findings — as you might expect, given strategies by the likes of Uber to leverage large user-bases as lobbying armies on their behalf.

The researchers found that 85 per cent of ride-hailing app users had heard something about the debates vs 48 per cent of US adults generally.

While a large minority (42 per cent) of Americans who have been following the ride-hailing regulatory debate feel these services should not be required to be regulated in the same way that existing taxi companies are. Among ride-hailing users specifically, this becomes a small majority (57 per cent).

However the study also found some strong beliefs among American adults on where safety-related responsibilities should lie.

So while a small majority (58 per cent) of ride-hailing app users view the services as software companies connecting people who want a ride with independent contractors (instead of as actual transportation companies themselves), a larger majority (68 per cent) believe that drivers and services have a joint responsibility to make sure drivers are properly trained. While more than a fifth (23 per cent) believe this should be the sole responsibility of the services.

Other findings from the research include that 11 per cent of U.S. adults have used a home-sharing site, although here usage skews older than for ride-hailing services — likely because of the higher costs involved of using these services as a paying customer, and the fact home owners are likely to be older adults.

Pew found the median age of home-sharing users in the U.S. is 42, and Americans aged 35 to 44 are nearly twice as likely to have used these services vs those aged 18 to 24.

On the crowdfunding front Pew found that around one-in-five U.S. adults have contributed to a fundraising project on sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, while just three per cent of Americans have created their own fundraising project.

You can read the full Pew study here.