GO RVing, the “consumer-facing voice of the RV industry,” has just released its latest demographic profile of RV owners. Given that this voice speaks on behalf of the companies that build and sell recreational vehicles, it’s not surprising that it chooses to highlight the big picture, starting with its finding that RV ownership has increased more than 62% over the last 20 years. All told, there now are 11.2 million RV-owning households in the country–and a whopping 9.6 million additional households say they intend to buy an RV within the next five years.
But that last number should give even the RV Industry Association pause, because it implies that U.S. manufacturers will have to crank out an additional 1.9 million RVs each year for the next five years–more than triple 2021 production, which has broken all records amid growing complaints of shoddy construction. Even assuming that some of those 9.6 million households buy used RVs and not new ones (an unlikely scenario, given the study’s finding that 78% of Millennials and Gen Zers looking to buy an RV want a new one), most sellers presumably will be looking to upgrade to newer units. Subtract those current RV owners who die or simply throw in the towel in disgust at the increasingly crowded RV landscape, and you’re still left with an impossible level of buying demand.
That’s the big picture. However, it’s the granular details that emerge from the demographic profile that are most fascinating–and none is more noteworthy than the link between gender and the amount of time spent RVing.
The GO RVing study divides the RVing population into seven categories, with the three largest groups–“casual campers,” “family campers” and “escapists”–accounting for a combined 88% of the total universe. As the names suggest, these are all RVers with relatively limited time spent in an RV each year, mostly for vacations, with the escapists clocking the longest hours, at an average 55 days a year. A fourth group, the “happy campers,” consist of snowbirds who, on average, spend 180 days in their RVs, essentially using them as seasonal housing.
Two of the remaining groups, on the other hand, are distinguished by their traveling in RVs for extended periods of time: “avid RVers,” the 6% of all RVers who spend an average of 111 days a year on the road; and “full-timers,” at 1.5% of the total. And the striking thing about these two groups is how disproportionately female they are, with 70% of the study’s full-timers being women, as are 64% of the avid RVers.
The GO RVing announcement about its findings focuses primarily on changing age demographics, presumably because a younger-trending market signals more industry growth. But the gender breakdown that GO RVing is ignoring presents numerous RV manufacturing design and marketing possibilities. And the realization that two-thirds of the most committed RVers are women should raise some tantalizing questions for sociologists interested in gender stratification in various occupations and American sub-cultures.