Why is it that adults now deliver newspapers?

I personally was far too pampered to deliver newspapers as a kid, but many other people I know (like my wife Jeannette) did deliver newspapers growing up. Anecdotally, at least, newspaper deliverers are now mostly adults with cars, rather than kids on bikes.

Does anyone have any theories as to why? I can think of many possible explanations, but none of them ring true to me. One hypothesis is that it paid much worse 30 years ago relative to other jobs, so adults wouldn’t do it, only kids. I doubt that is true though. Is it that kids aren’t willing to get up early in the morning anymore? Or, maybe kids mostly do still deliver, but I don’t know many teenagers so I just don’t hear about it?

Maybe blog readers have better answers.


I would imagine that parental worries about their childrens' safety are a major reason. Newspaper distributors also might be concerned about liability issues.

Michael Hessling

My guess is that newspapers now have longer and longer routes and less and less delivery personnel. A kid on a bike can't possibly deliver 100s of papers.


I wonder how many sindewalk-less subdivisions there were 30 years ago. From what I can tell, the suburban digs around here would be pretty intimidating terrain for a kid on a bike, regardless of how long the route is.
How is it that kids too young to have *real* jobs were ever able to be hired to deliver newspapers? Seems inherently more dangerous than bagging groceries.


The delivery in my neighborhood is done my a trio in a car - a driver, and a left side of the street person and a right side of the street person. They are incredibly efficient. Here in highly literate Seattle I bet at least 50%+ of the homes get a newspaper still. A kid on a bike couldn't possibly do it as efficiently.

Mark Weinstein

The demise of the afternoon newspaper removes the possibility of after school delivery jobs. Morning subscriptions are way down, and I think that the previous poster is correct, with longer routes the auto is a better technology.


With an increasing number of people living paycheck to paycheck, newspaper delivery makes it possible for most to earn extra money without interfering with their primary job. How many jobs out there are done by 7 am? Work a couple of hours, earn a few bucks and then off to your real job.


The papers are also petty hefty these days. I imagine a kid on a bike couldn't actually carry that many of a Sunday paper loaded with sales fliers and a gazillion other sections.


I don't think you're allowed to pay kids the pittance I made on my route anymore.
Perhaps as the price of child labor increases, paying adults in cars becomes the more viable option.


I used to deliver papers when I was in middle school. There were two distinct types of routes when I was a paperboy, neightborhoods when the houses were dense and the mailboxes were on the house, and subdivisions where the house were spread out and the mailboxes were on the street.

In order to deliver to houses with mailboxes on the street, you needed to be able to drive and have a car (which elimated almost all kids). So those routes ended up being reserved for adults.

With more and more subdivisions sprouting up, there are fewer opportunities for and old-fashioned paper route.


My father works for a newspaper company. Based on his advice, three factors came to mind:

1) The number of newspapers nationally has decreased, mostly as local papers have gone under. These were often the papers that employed kids.

2) Newspapers are now run more and more like businesses, and efficiency in delivery has become another way to cut cost (the same reason that the Sunday comics and coupons in some cities are now delivered on Saturday).

3) Newspapers are now printed farther and farther from readers' neighborhoods (the revolution of color newspapers demanded new printing facilities, many of which are located in exurbs). This alone forces at least some automotive transport.


Further to #7: One of the interesting differences between the US and Canada is that the main newspaper is on Sunday in the US, while it is on Saturday in Canada. Doesn't it make more sense to have the main newspaper on Saturday, which is the start of the weekend, i.e., so that people can look for weekend activities, sales, etc.?


I imagine security of the children was a high concern. Back in the 80's we had two young boys lost forever by kidnapping on their morning routes. In Iowa no less.

a singapore economist

I think the reason has to do not with delivering papers, but collecting payment. Collecting payment always took a long time because kids had to do it in person, waiting a few minutes at each stop when the customer looked for a check, signed it, etc. Now, payments, I think, are usually by mail or credit card. So the job pays better now.


I can't speak for all, but I can relate an experience with my local paperman. I have noticed that both the Tribune & Daily Herald are delivered by papermen in my neighborhood. Last year, around Christmastime, when you are supposed to tip your paperman with the paperman provided envelope, we received a letter from a local realtor describing our paperman's life and why we should give extra that year. She went on to describe that he was working 3 jobs to support a family of 5, and provided mostly economic reasons why he is a paperman. I don't know if this speaks for all papermen, but it makes sense that despite our historic low "inflation", spouses have to work and primary earners have to take second jobs to keep up with the cost of living.


It's been a while since I threw papers (with my parents), but even with mail and credit card payments, collecting was *still* a hassle, due to the 10-15% of the subscribers who *didn't* pay by mail or credit card. Given the business model---the delivery person basically pays for the papers---those reticent folks you have to track down are actually a significant part of your profit.

I'm inclined to believe that it's all a matter of scale---given the increasing size of the papers and the increased level of management and staffing that would be required to break routes down to a size manageable by a kid...it's *way* more efficient to operate with adults---or teams of adults---who cluster routes into larger clumps.

Antoine Belgodere

You have four competing technologies to deliver the papers.
1) A kid with a bike
2) A kid with a car
3) An adult with a bike
4) An adult with a car

2) is forbidden
If one assumes that adults are more expensive than kids, but not more productive for this kind of activity, tecghnology 3) is stupid.

Remain 1) and 4)

4) is more productive than 1), 1) is less expensive than 4)

The ratio productivity/price was in favour of technology 1), wheras the fall in cars prices makes now technology 4) more worthwhile.


minimum wage?


When I was a teen I had a paper route that covered a vast stretch of several neighborhoods. It took me several hours by bike to deliver them.

I stopped delivering when the afternoon paper went to a morning paper (people wanted their morning paper in the morning, yet my parents insisted I go to school in the morning.)

I would suspect that the same kid given the same opportunity that I had to deliver papers in the afternoon would choose not to, because it was too much time. Having worked with teenagers since I was one (late 80s) the time commitments of today's teens is vastly more than what even the highly committeed teens of my high school were involved with.

So there's one statistically insignificant datapoint for you :-)


Do minimum wage laws apply to newspaper delivery? A kid on a bike probably doesn't deliver enough papers per hour to warrant the minimum wage, whereas a car-mounted driver does.
In my area, a lot of advertising is delivered door to door by folks who, I would bet, getting cash off the books. The LA Times, however, probably can't afford to use such delivery tactics due to the threat of prosecution. Liability also seems a likely barrier to using bike-mounted teens.


Perhaps public relations play a part. Given the ghastly complaints that the distribution department receives from folks who don't get their paper on time, it's more likely that the most reliable applicant is hired, not the first keener to walk in the door. People want their paper and they want their paper NOW! Is this new? I don't know. Perhaps competition among newspapers has grown and so there's pressure to improve public relations?
I'd agree that safety is another big issue. It's too time-consuming for parents to accompany their kids.
And, for whatever reason, it also seems to be the case that newspaper-delivering is less of a shot to the ego for adults than it was in the past.