Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
About 88 percent of Americans owned cars—second in the world.
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey last year, asking people in 44 countries whether they owned a car, a motorcycle, or a bike. They sorted the results in an interactive chart (part of which is embedded below) that reveals global trends in vehicle ownership:
When it comes to cars, Italy tops the list: 89 percent of Italian survey respondents reported owning one. America trailed closely behind with 88 percent. In general, developed countries showed a high rate of car ownership. In Europe, for example, the median national share of car owners was 79 percent.
Developed Asian countries like South Korea and Japan also reported high car ownership (83 percent and 81 percent respectively). But in other South and Southeast Asian countries, the proportion of car owners was incredibly low. In Bangladesh, for example, only 2 percent reported having a car.
In the 44 countries surveyed, more people had bikes than cars: the median for car ownership was one-third; while for bike ownership, it was around 42 percent. Germany topped the list of bike-owning countries, with 80 percent of respondents owning bikes—way more than the United States, where only 53 percent owned bikes.
In emerging markets like Vietnam, Chile, China and Indonesia, around two-thirds of the population owned bikes. But within these emerging economies, bike-ownership was not positively associated with income the way it was in developed countries. Pew had a possible explanation:
This might be because owning a bicycle in the U.S. is more about biking as a hobby or recreational activity than in other emerging economies, where it is more often a means of transport.
Of the three means of transport, motorcycles were the least common. The survey found a high concentration of them in South and Southeast Asia, probably because they're not very expensive in these places. Some eight in 10 people in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia reported owning one.
Check out this time-lapse of traffic in Ho Chi Minh City to see how two-wheelers dominate the roads: