Understanding The Gender Commuting Gap and its Effect on Women in the Workplace

Those who aren’t lucky enough to work from home, or don’t live within walking distance, will be oh-so familiar with the often dreaded commute to work. Whether crammed onto a sweaty tube, or facing an arduous car journey in rush hour, this necessary evil of the working day sometimes feels a bit too evil.

With it becoming more and more common these days for people to face commutes of over an hour long, a new study has found this may not be experienced equally between the genders. The Office for National Statistics suggests that the gender commuting gap is a very real thing and may adversely affect pay and workplace opportunities.

The ONS conducted a study that found that by and large longer commutes are much more likely to be made by men, with 61 percent of those who commute for more than an hour in London (where longer commutes are more commonplace) being men. Data shows that this rises to three quarters for men who live in the east of England. The study also found that aside from London, women in every region of the UK are more likely to live within 15 minutes of their workplace.

But what exactly does this mean? Well, there’s been some interesting and varied interpretations of the data. The ONS has concluded that while women tend to favour shorter commute, even in return for a smaller wage, men are more likely to tolerate a longer journey to the office – often in return for higher pay. The ONS also claims, after studying various trends and behaviours, that women are more likely than men to leave their job over a long commute.




Women who have an hour-long commute are 29.1 percent more likely to leave their current job than if they had a 10-minute commute, compared with 23.9 percent for men. The trend is said to be most pronounced in areas within travelling distance of London, such as Guildford and Hampshire. “This divergence could be partly driven by families moving out of London, with men being more likely than women to continue working in the capital,” said the ONS.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies found that these disparities widen further after childbirth, and attribute this to mothers being more likely to take on the role of primary carer. The ‘gender commuting gap’ follows the same age pattern as the gender pay gap; both accelerating as people reach their mid to late 20s. The average age of a first-time mother in the UK is 28.8 years, with women aged over 30 more likely to leave their jobs based on a lengthy commute than women aged under 30. The Institute of Fiscal studies suggests the two could be linked, but this may not paint the full picture. A 2015 study by the ONS showed that men spend on average 1.9 hours a week on childcare, compared with 4.7 hours for women. Women also put in more hours of housework, devoting 26 hours a week compared to 16 hours for men. Facing such imbalance in the management of the household, it could be said that women are increasingly valuing their time over money.

Whilst there is no proven link between the gender commuting gap and the gender pay gap, the report seems to highlight areas of inequality. The Institute of Fiscal Studies said, “if mothers consider jobs within a smaller radius than fathers, employers will have a predominantly male pool of candidates to choose from. This may give employers bargaining power and enable them to hold down the wages of mothers more than the wages of fathers.” This contributes to more men doing more high paid jobs, which in turn adds to the long list of reasons behind the gender pay gap.

A study by the Trades Union Congress has found that we are all commuting for longer than we used to. One in seven workers spent at least two hours commuting per day in 2015. That was an increase from one in nine in 2010. The research found 35 percent more women spent longer commuting, and 29 percent of men.

Speaking to The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/nov/09/million-people-two-hours-commuting-tuc-study), Phil Flaxton, the chief executive of Work Wise UK said: “Long commutes have become part of the UK’s working culture. The excessive time spent commuting is one of the main factors contributing to work-life balance problems. Not only is the amount of time commuting an issue, the nine to five culture with its peak travel times generates congestion on the railways, underground and road networks, and as a consequence increases stress for commuters.”