If Your Parents Drove a Ford, Do You?

(Photo: Nick Ares)

(Photo: Nick Ares)

Most adults have vivid memories of the cars of their childhoods — the wood-paneled station wagons (with backwards-facing rear seats, no less) or the boxy minivans in which they were driven to school or church.  But how much do those memories affect people’s car-buying decisions in adulthood?  That’s the question asked in a new paper (draft PDF; abstract) by Soren T. Anderson, Ryan Kellogg, Ashley Langer, and James M. Sallee:

We document a strong correlation in the brand of automobile chosen by parents and their adult children, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. This correlation could represent transmission of brand preferences across generations, or it could result from correlation in family characteristics that determine brand choice. We present a variety of empirical specifications that lend support to the former interpretation and to a mechanism that relies at least in part on state dependence. We then discuss implications of intergenerational brand preference transmission for automakers’ product-line strategies and for the strategic pricing of vehicles to different age groups.

The authors also conclude that these preferences likely explain why automakers carry wide ranges of products. “[I]t seems likely that giving consumers an opportunity to stay within a brand over the lifecycle, thereby allowing them to develop a brand preference, can substantially enhance the value of carrying a broadly differentiated vehicle fleet,” they write.  “It is intuitive to expect that brand preferences give producers an incentive to develop entry-level offerings that will “lead” consumers to their profitable upscale goods.”

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  1. James says:

    Seems to ignore the fact that the auto brands a lot of us drive – Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Kia, etc – weren’t even around when we were kids. And others, like Studebaker, MG, & Jaguar, either have disappeared (from these shores, at least), or have changed beyond recognition.

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  2. VBinNV says:

    I couldn’t wait to not drive a Chevrolet or Oldsmobile. When I graduated from college in the 80’s my father told me to see his friend at the Chevy dealer. I bought a Honda, then Toyota, Subaru, Lexus and back to Toyota.

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  3. J296 says:

    I am pragmatic about buying a car. I pick up a copy of Consumer Reports. I go straight to my price range and choose a cars that is recommended. I don’t have brand nostalgia or loyalty.

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    • Phil Persinger says:


      What about other, less pricey items like toothpaste or laundry detergent? From sheer inertia, I bought my childhood peanut butter for years until I started thinking about the fillers….

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  4. Andrew B says:

    All the three comments above mine are very reasonable and well thought. I suspect the people that read Freakonomics are not your typical American, probably more educated, practical and thoughtful so they would not fit the greater preponderance of people in this study.

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  5. Dwight says:

    If I had reviewed this paper, I would have given it one word, “Duh!”

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  6. steve cebalt says:

    I’m from Detroit originally, age 53. In my early-driving days, their were not as many “foreign” cars to choose from, and the Motor City culture strongly penalized drivers of “foreign” cars. Like a great many people, my first car was a family hand-me-down, in my case a Ford. This experience led me to buy Fords until two things happened: U.S. automakers shipped production to other countries and vice-versa, making “American” cars an anachronism; and that meant there were more culturally acceptable choices in the market (Toyotas, Hondas Hyundai, Kia, etc.). Now I drive a Honda.

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    • James says:

      As a kid, the family always drove Chevrolets (except for one Buick). I always wanted British sports cars (and have owned a few). Only owned one Chevy myself: a Vega. That cured me of buying American cars.

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  7. Mark A. Mathison says:

    I am not and never will be swayed by name brands, advertising, or tradition. Like my father, my preference for cars is whatever I can afford with cash that will run well for a few years.

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  8. P. Lee says:

    Yes, my dad drove a Ford…And, did not enjoy the many, many, many involuntary trips to the dealer for repairs. Therefore, I will never drive a Ford. Even if given for free.

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