Following America? : Dutch geographical car diffusion, 1900 to 1980

H.M. Wolf

    Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

    460 Downloads (Pure)


    The main issue addressed in this thesis is the interpretation of the Dutch geographical car diffusion pattern, in comparison to the American example. This topic is analyzed in quantitative terms. In the first part of this dissertation, we give a first impression of what characterizes the ggregate Dutch long-term car diffusion curve, compared to the U.S. and other capitalist countries. This analysis is based on time series about the diffusion of three transport modes – railways, airways and cars – for twenty-one countries. The Netherlands can be characterized as a catching-up country in respect to the adoption and ownership of cars. Its growth rate in car ownership level is particularly high during the second period of the diffusion process, relative to the earlier part. In the second part of the dissertation, the Dutch long-term geographical diffusion path is described and analyzed. The context used for this analysis is borrowed from the analysis of diffusion in time and space by T. Hägerstrand. Our analysis is based on car ownership data for all Dutch municipalities for several benchmark years. We roughly distinguish four phases of geographical car diffusion. In the first phase, until around 1905, cars were adopted in a quite scattered way. The urban provinces in the middle of the country showed relatively high car adoption levels, however. Up to 1930, car adoption became concentrated in the West of the country. The car diffusion centers included the urban Randstad as well as rural Zeeland and Western Groningen. Until 1950 this situation remained quite stable. Thereafter, the regions with low car ownership levels caught up and even partly surpassed the former car diffusion centers. The Randstad became somewhat more heterogeneous in terms of adoption levels, where highly densely populated places fell – in relative terms – behind. In terms of the periodization of the geographical car diffusion process, the Dutch car diffusion process seems to show great similarity to the American car diffusion process, notwithstanding the huge difference in scale between the two countries. In the third part of the dissertation, a number of hypotheses with regard to the factors behind this diffusion path are articulated and tested with the help of (spatial) regression analysis. The theoretical roots of these hypotheses include demand theory, E. Rogers' notion of "social diffusion" and T. Hägerstrand's contagious diffusion model. The motivation to adopt cars seems to have changed drastically during the period in question. The car in the Netherlands could never grow to an exclusively urban phenomenon because of the hesitation of people living in crowded places to adopt cars. If we interpret the differences and similarities in the car diffusion process between the U.S. and the Netherlands, it is important to pay attention to the factor "population density" besides the factor "income and costs".
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
    • Verspagen, Bart, Promotor
    • Mom, Gijs P.A., Copromotor
    Award date4 Mar 2010
    Place of PublicationEindhoven
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    Dive into the research topics of 'Following America? : Dutch geographical car diffusion, 1900 to 1980'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this