Économie et Statistique n° 457-458 - 2012Transport Survey
Car ownership, between a Constraint and a Social Distinction
The automobile is a symbol of the consumer society and mass production, the spread of which in France reveals significant differences between social groups, both in terms of access to automobiles and distribution of different vehicle categories (make, model, power, age and acquisition status). New types of distinction are appearing between these groups (multi-car ownership and the progression of the share taken by foreign brands, in particular). Joint analysis of the travel habits and automobiles of car-owning households in 2008 highlights links between the specific effects of mobility constraints and travel habits, although these do not in any way make the gaps between social groups any less robust. Vehicle acquisition status appears to be a social status marker that is subject to a cycle of diffusion and normalisation revealed by the socially-differentiated access to the new and used vehicle markets. This combines with the type of vehicle. German cars, in particular the more powerful ones, are thus shown to be a specific marker of belonging to the higher classes, in particular among the self-employed. These differences underline the social status and symbolic competition issues that continue to surround the acquisition and uses of automobiles.