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Rob Perks’s Blog

Women and Traffic

Rob Perks

Posted April 24, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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This is not a blog about women drivers, I swear. That stereotype is ridiculous.  Just ask anyone in my family and they'll tell you that my lovely wife is a much better driver than I am.  I admit it, they're right.  It's probably because I don't get a lot of practice since I ride a Metro train to work every day.  That's okay, I can live with leaving the driving to my spouse.

What this post is really about is interesting new evidence which suggests that commute times may influence whether or not married women work at all. You can read about the research in The Atlantic.  Here's the gist of the study:

"[T]he researchers focused their analysis on commuting in 50 big metros across the United States. They compared average two-way commute times across several decades with the size of the female labor force in these cities over that same period. On the whole they found that every additional minute of commuting led to a .3 percent drop in the rate of working wives. That means for every half hour difference in commute time between cities, you might expect about a 10 percent gap in the married female labor force.

"When the researchers separated women into several groups, that trend varied in degree but not in kind. The effect was largest for women with young children (under age 5), where a 1-minute commute decreased the probability of working by half a percent, followed by women with older children. Women with no children displayed the effect to a smaller magnitude, as did women with college degrees. Black and colleagues also found that as commute times rose within a particular metro, the female labor force grew more slowly."

The research has particular resonance for me because this is exactly what happened with my wife.  After we married and moved to the D.C. area, we both commuted together by Metro train into the city for work.  When our son was born, my wife started driving to work so she had more flexibility to drop off and pick him up from childcare. But after a couple of years the strain of the commute took its toll, so she switched jobs to work near home, closer to our childcare provider.  A short while later, still feeling harried and exhausted, she stopped working for about a year until our son started kindergarten. Then she went back to work nearby on a part-time basis so she could be home with him after school.

It's safe to say that she sacrificed her career (and our household income) to put our child's interests first.  I love her for that and am very grateful.  Over the years I've noticed that many of the other mom's we know have made the same choice -- putting their kids before their careers.  They either work part-time, work from home or don't work at all so they can handle the bulk of child-rearing duties while we husbands trudge off to work every day. The article addresses this point:

'Since women are the ones who traditionally bear most household responsibilities, the overall cost of working far from home — measured in time and energy as well as money — is even greater for them than it is for men. In other words, it's not just the commute itself that may discourage married women from working, it's also the extra effort needed to get other places (e.g. school or the store) later in the day."

So this new study confirms something I've known for a long tme, which is why it makes perfect sense.  Now we should think about what to do about it.  Improving commute times by offering more people more transportation choices -- such as accessible, reliable, convenient transit -- certainly should be part of the solution.  We've all heard of the "Mommy Wars", so how about moms come together to declare war on traffic!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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