Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Long in the Tooth

February 14th, 2012 · 5 Comments


Based on my formative experiences with BJ and the Bear reruns, I’ve long imagined the archetypal American trucker as a picture of health. But the men and women who brings goods to market are actually a pretty grizzled lot these days (PDF):

The average age of a truck driver in the United States is over 48 years. Since 2000, the number of service and truck drivers 55 or older has surged 19%, to about 616,000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That age figure is particularly disturbing in light of the shorter-than-average life expectancies of truckers (also PDF):

Data on active OOIDA members who had died suggest that the average age of death for OOIDA members is only 55.7 years. While this sample is not random and is biased toward those actively in the work force and under special pressures encountered by owner-operators, at face value Mr. Siebert considered these numbers alarming. Using OOIDA member data, he reported that 49.5% of OOIDA members were obese, compared to only 31% of the overall U.S. population. Only 12.7% of OOIDA members were normal weight, compared to 36% of the overall U.S. population. Mr. Siebert also reported that 13 out of 430 recent OOIDA deaths (3%) were from suicide.

The question I’ve yet to see adequately addressed is why the truck-driving profession is having such a tough time attracting young blood. The most common explanation is that companies are reluctant to add payroll, and are thus driving their older employees into the ground, so to speak. But my hunch is that there’s something innate to the profession that doesn’t sit well with folks in their twenties. The sense of isolation, perhaps?

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Ivan Ivanovich Renko

    There’s also that whole “random drug test” thing, which can cost someone his or her job for what they did last weekend.

  • monkeyball

    I suspect this is less about “inability to attract young candidates” than it is about inability of older drivers to retire comfortably/sustainably given the current state of the economy and the social safety net.

  • prunella vulgaris

    One of my friends has been driving semis for the last decade or so and he told me that a lot of the not-as-good trucking companies really screw over their drivers (paying by the load and then hiring more drivers than there are loads causing competition and risky driving, no-compete clauses, etc.) I’m wishing I could remember all the things he was telling me, but it seems like it’s harder to get into comfortably for the long-term.

    He also said the loneliness really got to him after awhile. I’m sure that’s a big part of it.

  • Nick Paloukos

    A sense of isolation seems fitting. I always think of truck driving as a very solitary pursuit. Perhaps those that prefer to be alone have switched to other professions, technology for instance.

    Much is written the shortage of Primary Care Physicians (General practictioners/family doctors), it’s nice to see other other professions are long in the tooth. My profession, insurance, is another one. At 33 I am often the youngest guy in the room of my peers by a decade, and probably a full 20-25 years younger than the mean age.

  • Nick Paloukos

    Correction: It’s nice to see WHAT other professions are long in the tooth.

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