Archive | November, 2018

Mind the gaps: transport and gender equality

9 Nov


Have you heard about the ‘gender commuting gap’? The papers have highlighted a finding published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), that men are more likely to commute long distances to work than women.  Over 60% of those who take at least an hour to reach their workplace are men, while in the East of England – a key region for commuting to London – this rises to 76%.

The ONS noted that men predominate among those making long commutes; those commuting longer distances into London; and those who work in a different region of the UK from the one they live in.  Meanwhile, women make up the majority of people who travel to work in 15 minutes or less.  Nonetheless, women are behind a general rise in long commuting times: the number of women travelling for a least an hour to and from work in the capital, has risen 46% since 2011, and in the country as a whole, women have experienced a 39% rise in long commuting times, compared to 27% for men, over the same time period.

So what’s behind the headline figures? Researchers have sought to delve deeper, and provide some insight into the numbers.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) used a different dataset to explore how parenthood and caring responsibilities might be associated with travel-to-work times.  They analysed panel data, where the same people are followed over time, to show that the gender gap in commuting opens up when women have children, and continues to grow over time.  In fact, the gender commuting gap, like the gender pay gap, grows year-on-year ‘for at least a decade after the first child in the family is born’. That’s right, the impact of having children can be seen in the gap between mothers’ and fathers’ pay and journeys to work for at least ten years. Of course, the IFS is the first to say that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the link between the two gender gaps is causal – we can’t say for certain that working locally leads to lower pay.  But it could be that such a relationship exists – the IFS speculates that opting to work in a smaller area could restrict women’s employment options, compared to more free-ranging men, and it is even possible that employers benefit from mothers choosing local work: they don’t necessarily need to compete as hard on wages if locality is key, compared to firms seeking to attract workers from further afield.  Other changes in parents’ working arrangements, such as part-time or flexible work also contribute to the gender pay gap.

The ONS mentions TUC research on growing commuting times for people who work in health, education and social care, as a possible reason why women’s commuting times might be increasing more than men’s – women make up the bulk of the workforce in these sectors. These jobs are not notably well-paid, and rising housing costs might explain why such workers are travelling longer distances to get to work.  This links with further analysis by another think tank, the Resolution Foundation.  The Resolution Foundation shows a generational dimension to commuting trends: younger workers are commuting for longer than older ones, likely explained by high living costs in city centres.  At the same time, millennials are earning less than previous generations, due to the long-term squeeze on pay since the financial crisis, so they may not be profiting from longer journeys to work in the same way that some older workers (notably men with families) may have been able to.  Taken altogether, the evidence suggests that women may be more likely to end up with both longer journeys and relatively poorer pay in future.

The picture of interlocking gender commuting gaps and gender pay gaps, led me to think about how important it is to view childcare, as well as transport, as infrastructure.  Parents who commute further often rely on others to do the school run, or to take children to childcare settings; such workers are still predominantly men, while the people dealing with the children are often women, many of whom work relatively nearby.  Interestingly, cycling is the most male-dominated means of transport for commuting, which seems emblematic of more men’s ability to make their own journeys, without the encumbrance of children or other caring responsibilities.  Cyclists may also be the kind of commuters who have access to better-equipped workplaces, able to accommodate changing facilities and bicycles.  Behind individual commutes of all sorts, there’s often a web of support, enabling those trips to be made. If childcare were considered more as part of the country’s infrastructure for investment, just as railways, buses and cycle paths are seen as integral to labour markets, then current gender gaps in experience might begin to disappear. Something tells me it could be quite a long journey from here to there.




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