Status pressure driving millennials to make big purchase decisions

Last Updated on: 22nd November 2023, 12:34 pm

19-36 year olds most likely to take out car finance to live up to social media aspirations

  • More than half of millennials (53%) bought a car for status or prestige – twice as many as generation X;
  • 22% of millennials were influenced by Facebook while 16% said Instagram played a part in their choice of car;
  • 64% of 19-36 year olds have car finance compared to just 38% of the generation before them;
  • Three times as many millennials as members of generation X post photos of their cars on social media;
  • And one in three of them clean their car every week, compared with just 10% of those aged 37-54;

A new investigation from Admiral Car Finance reveals that the desire to match what’s seen on social media extends beyond personal image and fashion choices, to the cars we choose to drive.

And this may have financial implications on younger generations too, as over half of drivers aged 19 – 36 (53%) admit to feeling pressure to buy a specific car for status or prestige.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Admiral found that whilst almost a third (30%) of millennial drivers were guided by their budget when selecting a car to buy, almost a quarter (22%) of the same age group admitted it was their friends who influenced their purchase.

When it comes to social media, many drivers aged between 19-36 are swayed by what they see on their phone screens. 22% found Facebook had a big impact on their car buying decision, while 16% were influenced by Instagram.  By comparison, just  6% of drivers aged 37-54 (generation X) were influenced by Facebook and 4% by Instagram.

While over a third (37%) of 19-36 year olds said they followed car-related social media influencers online, just 13% of gen X admitted to doing the same.

And when it comes to celebrities and cars, 14% of millennials said that famous faces played a part in their choice of car, compared to just 4% of gen X drivers who admitted they felt the same influence.

The changing face of car ownership

Younger drivers were found to be more reliant on credit, with 64% taking car finance to fund a purchase compared to 38% of 37-54 year olds.

While the most common monthly budget for car finance is between £300-£399 for both generations (28% millennials, 21% gen X), it seems that millennials are happy to push their budget further when it comes to car ownership with 31% saying  they would be prepared to spend over £500 a month on car finance, but only 12% of gen X are willing to spend the same.

According to analysis of Admiral customers, the average value of cars owned by millennials is £6,856 while for gen X it’s £10,057. But the younger generation is willing to spend more to be able to drive a car they really desire as 13% of them would be willing to spend HALF of their salary on a car.

By comparison,  just 2% of the older generation would be willing to part with that proportion of their salary, suggesting the pull of peer pressure and social media status updates is strong enough that younger drivers are prepared to stretch themselves financially.

Car Proud

Admiral found that whilst 28% of all drivers frequently post photos of their cars, or themselves inside their cars, on social media, almost half of those aged 19-36 do so (47%). Just as Facebook and Instagram influence the cars drivers chose, owners were equally keen to share their own car snaps, with 70% of drivers who posted their own cars on social media using Facebook and just over half posting images on Instagram.

And when it comes to their cars it seems millennials take more care and are more proud of their wheels, with almost a third (31%) of them washing their car weekly. Only one in ten from gen X cleans their car so frequently.

With regards to the car they actually drive, millennials are most likely to drive a Ford Fiesta, followed by a Vauxhall Corsa and VW Golf, whilst the top cars driven by gen X drivers was a Ford Focus, VW Golf or Ford Fiesta revealed Admiral, based on its own insured customers.

When it comes to the cars these groups really want however, the top two choices for both generations when asked were a BMW i8, and an Audi R8 whilst millennials opted for a Ford GT as their third top choice for ideal car, compared to gen X drivers who chose an Aston Martin Vantage.

Rank Millennials – Current make/model Millennials – aspirational car choices Gen X – Current make/model Gen X –

aspirational car choices

1 Ford Fiesta BMW i8 Ford Focus BMW i8
2 Vauxhall Corsa Audi R8 VW – Golf Audi R8
3 Volkswagen Golf Ford GT Ford – Fiesta Aston Martin Vantage
4 Volkswagen Polo Aston Martin Vantage Vauxhall Astra Land Rover Range Rover Sport
5 Ford Focus Mercedes Benz C Class Vauxhall Corse Ferarri Enzo
6 Vauxhall Astra Land Rover Range Rover Sport Nissan Qashqai VW Golf GTI
7 Renault Clio Ford Fiesta Vauxhall Zafira Mercedes Benz C Class
8 Toyota Yaris Mini Cooper Audi A3 Ford Fiesta
9 Fiat 500 Ferrari Enzo VW Polo Mini Cooper
10 Audi A3 Fiat 500 Honda Civic Porsche Cayenne

Regional differences

Regionally, Admiral found:

  • Just 1% of all drivers in East Anglia were influenced by Facebook in buying a car compared to almost a quarter (23%) in London;
  • 14% of drivers all in London were influenced by celebrities in their car choices;
  • In Yorkshire & the Humber a driver’s partner was the biggest influence on a car purchase decision;
  • More drivers in Northern Ireland were influenced by their parents than anywhere else (24%);
  • Almost a quarter of all drivers in the North East (24%) were influenced by their kids, compared to just 6% in Scotland and Yorkshire & the Humber.

Commenting on the figures, Scott Cargill, CEO at Admiral Loans said:

“While budget is still the main influence for all generations when choosing a car, for many millennials in particular it would seem that social media influencers matter too.  It’s really important that anyone taking out finance on a car  remembers that the most important factor is not what social media, or their mates, think is cool, but picking a car that is affordable to ensure they don’t put themselves under undue financial strain.

“Celebrities and online influencers in particular are likely to be photographed in cars that they have been loaned as part of sponsorship or are using for advertising purposes, there’s a good chance they don’t actually own or pay the finance for those cars themselves and stretching yourself to copy them could land you in financial difficulty.”

Doctor Dean Burnett, author and neuroscientist said: “In the current economic climate where traditional milestones like owning a home or securing permanent employment are increasingly out of reach for the younger generation of millennials, it seems that other factors are influencing decisions like car buying. Social status in an increasingly interconnected world is becoming far more important as a result”

Admiral’s top tips for choosing a car on finance

  1. Work out what you can afford to spend a month – think about finance of the vehicle itself, but also the cost of fuel, auto insurance, tax and servicing – stick within your budget
  2. If you’re going to buy a car on finance shop around before you go to the showroom to find a deal that suits you
  3. Make sure you take the right type of finance – Admiral offers car loans as well as HP and PCP deals – make sure you understand how they differ upfront
  4. Don’t by swayed by what you see online: the person with the flash car in the photograph might not even own it – it could be a sponsorship or advertising deal
  5. Try before you buy: buying a new car is a big financial commitment, and for millennials could be the largest purchase they’ve ever made – so test drive some cars before making a final decision and don’t be pressured into making a fast decision!
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