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The hidden costs of commuting while female

There's the wage gap, the bonus gap, the promotions gap — and then there's the commuting gap.New re...

Posted: Nov. 27, 2018 6:15 PM
Updated: Nov. 27, 2018 6:15 PM

There's the wage gap, the bonus gap, the promotions gap — and then there's the commuting gap.

New research shows that even when it comes to negotiating the distance between work and home, men and women inhabit different realities. For many men, the commute to work is a fact of life, something non-negotiable and relatively uncomplicated — a pain, maybe, but a mere part of the workday.

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But for many women, the daily commute is loaded with difficult decisions. They may choose where they live or work to intentionally shorten their commutes, in order to meet a multitude of homemaking and caregiving responsibilities. If a job requires commuting at night or alone, some women spend more money on taxis or ride shares using services like Uber and Lyft.

Because of these added costs, women might decide some commutes just aren't worth it. They may forgo a job -— and its wages — altogether.

Commuting while female

Sarah Kaufman, of New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation, says two things affect women's commuting considerations. She found many New York women spent hundreds of dollars each year on ridesharing apps and taxi services, both for convenience (think about carrying a stroller up and down subway steps) and for personal safety (think also about waiting on that same subway late at night, alone).

"Even though there aren't these huge incidents on transportation systems, there are daily interactions that can also wear down on a person, much like workplace harassment might," Kaufman says. "There are things that can really impact someone's self-worth or general level of comfort in their day-to-day lives."

Women in low-income industries, often juggle work in remote places with shifts in the early morning or late evening. If they don't have a vehicle, they're reliant on public transportation, which brings a whole new set of potential encounters with harassment, catcalling or worse.

Women in these situations may avoid a job altogether for fear of a potentially dangerous commute, says Evelyn Blumenberg, professor of urban planning at the University of California in Los Angeles.

"A lot of those actual and perceived fears influence the likelihood that a woman is even going to use public transit," Blumenberg says. "So it's off-peak hours, say nighttime when the bus doesn't come very often — there's lots of fears about security, about hanging out at a bus stop. You're likely to not take that trip, which may have economic consequences."

The caregiver's commute

In the United Kingdom, the Office of National Statistics found women have much shorter commute times than their male partners. At first glance, this seems like a good thing — until you consider the other responsibilities that necessitate women being that much closer to the home.

"I think it really fits into what we know about parenting," says Ariane Hegewisch, research director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "If you're a parent, you're really held to a tight schedule, which means you take into account things like 'Can I be back at 5:30 or 6 to pick the kid up from childcare?' and we also know a lot of the highest-paying jobs in the US need you to be very fungible with time, if not always available."

For this reason, Hegewisch says, many women have to make compromises when it comes to their career. Especially in high-paying fields like law and finance, promotions come from working long hours and weekends, or even offering to be "on call" at all times. This is something outside the realm of possibility for many caregivers who are already juggling responsibilities at home with those on the job.

"You basically cannot be late if you're a parent," Hegewisch says. "You're held to a tight schedule."

The irony, Hegewisch points out, is that ideally once an employee puts in the time and makes the compromises — all to reach tenure or make partner, for example — they can then control their time with some sense of authority.

But for many women battling commute times and other hurdles blocking their path to success, that control comes too late to make a difference.

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