April 16, 2015

Car, bike or motorcycle? Depends on where you live

Last year, we asked people in 44 countries whether they owned certain household items such as microwaves, televisions or radios. We did this in part to explore whether owning more household goods has an effect on life satisfaction – and, indeed, owning more key items increases happiness by a substantial amount.

We also asked whether people have a car, bicycle or motorcycle in their home, and we found major variations of ownership by region around the world. One caveat: We didn’t ask about whether people used these items, just whether they had one in working order. People might primarily use other forms of transportation, such as public transit or walking, in their daily lives. Nevertheless, we found notable differences between economically advanced nations, emerging markets and developing countries:

Traffic in Rome.
cars
motorcycles
bicycles
sort by region
sort by rank
sort by rank
Percentage of households that have a car:
*In Peru and Colombia, this item did not include “scooter.”
*In Peru and Colombia, this item did not include “scooter.”
Europe
Russia/Ukraine
Middle East
Asia/Pacific
Latin America
Sub-Saharan Africa
Europe
Russia/Ukraine
Middle East
Asia/Pacific
Latin America
Sub-Saharan Africa
*In Peru and Colombia, this item did not include “scooter.”
Europe
Russia/Ukraine
Middle East
Asia/Pacific
Latin America
Sub-Saharan Africa
Icons by Noun Project.

 

Across the 44 countries we surveyed, a median of around one-third (35%) say they have a working car in their home. Americans are near the top, with 88% saying they own a car (despite evidence that Americans are driving less), and are on par with Italians (89%). Across the seven European Union nations surveyed, a median of 79% own a car. Other advanced economies, such as South Korea and Japan, also have high car ownership rates.

The least common place to find a car is in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. The variation between the most cars owned in Asia (South Korea at 83%) and the least (Vietnam and Bangladesh at 2% each) is staggering. And the two most populous nations on Earth, China and India, have only 17% and 6% car ownership rates, respectively.

Overall, bikes are more common around the world than cars. A median of 42% across the 44 countries say they have a bicycle in working order in their home. Chances are a German garage has a bike inside, with eight-in-ten Germans surveyed saying they have one. But in the U.S., only about half (53%) own a bike. Overall, bicycle ownership is more common in Asia, the EU and the U.S. than in Africa and the Middle East. It is also more common in advanced economies than in emerging markets.

Aside from Germany, the countries that have the most bike owners are Japan (78%), Thailand (74%) and Poland (70%). Around two-thirds own bicycles in Vietnam, Chile, China and Indonesia. Bicycle ownership is lowest in Lebanon (7%) and Jordan (5%) among the countries surveyed.

If you’ve ever witnessed traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s clear that motorcycles and scooters dominate transportation there. While less common than cars and bicycles, these relatively inexpensive two-wheelers are especially popular in South and Southeast Asia. More than eight-in-ten in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia own a scooter. And the next tier of motorcycle owners are all in Asia: China at 60%, India at 47% and Pakistan at 43%.

Other regions pale in comparison. The advanced economies highest on the motorcycle ownership list are Italy (26%), home to the famous Vespa brand, and Greece (23%). The U.S., home to Harley-Davidson, languishes behind in this category, with only 14% of Americans saying they own a motorcycle.

While it is clear that national income is a primary driver of car ownership across countries, the relationship within a country is not always clear cut. For example, in the U.S., while it’s true that wealthier individuals are more likely to own a car (98% among households making over $51,000 per year), around eight-in-ten (79%) among those who earn less than $51,000 per year have one in their household. However, in Brazil, car ownership is much more common among high-income earners (66% high-income vs. 25% low-income), and this holds true in many other emerging nations.

One interesting tidbit: Wealthier people in the U.S. are far more likely to own a bicycle than their less well-off brethren (71% and 38%, respectively). But bicycle ownership is comparable across income levels in Brazil (55% high-income vs. 51% low-income) and other emerging markets. This might be because owning a bicycle in the U.S. is more about biking as a hobby or recreational activity than in other emerging economies, where it is more often a means of transport.

For more on the survey methods and topline results for these findings, click here.

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America, World Economies, Socioeconomic Class

  1. Photo of Jacob Poushter

    is a senior researcher focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.