Whether it’s the desire for the open road or the need to pile your soccer-playing kids into the SUV, American life is driven by the automobile; fully 88% of the U.S. public say cars are a necessity, not a luxury that can be lived without, leading a list of household items in terms of necessity vs. luxury. A Pew Social Trends survey finds that while the need for several items (microwave, AC) ebb and flow with the economy, the car has remained steady as an almost universal must-have for decades. And, according to a separate survey, being able to drive is strongly associated with not growing old. Two-thirds of the public say a person is old when he or she can no longer drive, more than say turning age 75 or forgetting family names are signs of old age. While there is disagreement among age groups about what marks old age, there is agreement across all generations that not driving is a sure sign of being old. Though, while almost half of those under the age of 65 believe that when they finally do reach old age they’ll lose their keys — and freedom — only 14% of respondents over 65 say they don’t drive. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.