Men and women have different travel behavior—which has implications for policymakers

Woman loading car with shopping bagsDespite having more similar roles at home and work than ever before, U.S. men and women continue to have different travel behavior. Employed men spend more time commuting and less time on errands and other household support trips than women do. What causes the difference?

Researchers led by Yingling Fan, associate professor in the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, tested competing theories. They analyzed publicly available data in various ways across groups of workers with different types of family structures.

For example, they tested the theory that travel behavior differences were based on biologically driven gender differences. “If this theory was true, travel differences between men and women could be applied across all population groups regardless of family structure, but this was not the case,” Fan explains. “We found that single female workers and single male workers exhibit no significant difference in travel behavior.”

Researchers did find strong support, however, for the theory that socially constructed gender roles explain travel behavior differences. “We discovered that while marriage alone doesn’t differentiate travel behavior between men and women, parenthood does have a significant impact,” Fan says. “Interestingly, we found that even being the sole breadwinner does not insulate mothers from socially constructed gender roles—female breadwinners in married single-worker households with children have shorter work commutes and more household support travel than male breadwinners in the same family structure.”

Women with children often take jobs closer to home and schools for convenience sake, but that could limit their job and career options, Fan says.

According to the researchers, these findings provide insights on how future growth or decline in specific family structures may shape travel demand. “As childless households continue to grow in relation to households with children, it’s possible that fewer female workers will be confined by short work commutes and may choose to spend more time commuting to more desirable jobs, placing new demands on the transportation system,” Fan says.

The research was funded in part by a Minnesota Population Center Program Development Grant.

Posted in Traffic data, Transportation research, Travel Behavior

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