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To bring attention to the 23% ‘gender commute time gap’ in the US, ‘Equal Commute Day’ for women fell on April 18

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AEI To bring attention to the 23% ‘gender commute time gap’ in the US, ‘Equal Commute Day’ for women fell on April 18 There was a lot of media attention a few weeks ago to Equal Pay Day that occurred on April 4, and which is supposed to represent how far into this year the typical women had to continue working full-time to earn what her male counterpart earned in 2016 based on a 20% gender difference in favor of men when comparing unadjusted median earnings for year-round full-time workers. The implication of Equal Pay Day is that blatant, widespread and illegal gender discrimination in the labor market in the main reason for the gender pay gap, which can only be corrected with increased regulatory action and equal pay legislation at the federal and state levels. But economists have pointed for many years that there are many factors that explain gender differences in earnings including hours worked, occupational and career choices, characteristics of occupations (risk of injury/death, family-friendliness, flexibility in hours worked), family and childcare choices among many others.

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To bring attention to the 23% ‘gender commute time gap’ in the US, ‘Equal Commute Day’ for women fell on April 18

To bring attention to the 23% ‘gender commute time gap’ in the US, ‘Equal Commute Day’ for women fell on April 18 To bring attention to the 23% ‘gender commute time gap’ in the US, ‘Equal Commute Day’ for women fell on April 18

There was a lot of media attention a few weeks ago to Equal Pay Day that occurred on April 4, and which is supposed to represent how far into this year the typical women had to continue working full-time to earn what her male counterpart earned in 2016 based on a 20% gender difference in favor of men when comparing unadjusted median earnings for year-round full-time workers. The implication of Equal Pay Day is that blatant, widespread and illegal gender discrimination in the labor market in the main reason for the gender pay gap, which can only be corrected with increased regulatory action and equal pay legislation at the federal and state levels. But economists have pointed for many years that there are many factors that explain gender differences in earnings including hours worked, occupational and career choices, characteristics of occupations (risk of injury/death, family-friendliness, flexibility in hours worked), family and childcare choices among many others.

And here a few more factors that might explain the unadjusted gender pay gap that haven’t received much attention: a) the 16% “geographical gender gap” that reflects the gender difference in the average distance that male and female college graduates move from their university for their first jobs after graduation (an average of 318 miles for women vs. 370 for men) and b) the 23% “gender commute time gap” in the US that reflects the difference in average daily commute times for men (71 minutes) and women (61 minutes), see top table above.

The average daily commute times by gender are from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s  (OECD) Family Database (available here), and a summary of some of those data are displayed in the two tables above for more than a dozen OECD countries. The top table above displays average commute times for “paid workers” in 17 OECD countries (including the US) from this OECD source (see Table LMF2.6.A). Some observations:

1. For all 17 OECD countries in the top table, men spend more time on average commuting to and from work each day, and the “gender commute time gap” ranges from as little as one extra minute of commuting time each day in Norway to as high as 18 minutes each day in the U.S. The difference in average commute times in the US by gender – 61 minutes for women vs. 79 minutes for men – represents a 23% “gender commute time gap” in favor of women, who spend less time than men commuting to work. That gender gap is very close to the 20% “gender pay gap” that the National Committee on Pay Equity used to calculated its Equal Pay Day this year to bring attention to the dubious claim that  “because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay.”

2. Following my introduction in 2010 of the “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” to highlight the “gender occupational fatality gap” in favor of women, I introduced the “Equal Commute Day” last year to highlight the significant “gender commute time gap” in favor of women. As displayed in the top table above, “Equal Commute Day” in the U.S. fell this week on Tuesday April 18 and represents how far into 2017 women will be able to commute to work before they “catch up” and spend as much time commuting to work as men did in 2016. “Equal Commute Days” for other OECD countries are also displayed in the top table above.

(Note: To calculate the “Equal Commute Day” for the US, I took the daily “gender commute gap” of 18 minutes and multiplied that by 250 days (5 work days per week X 50 weeks of work per year), to get 4,500 extra commute minutes per year for men (18 minutes commute time X 250 commute days). Then I divided 4,500 extra minutes of commute time per year by the average daily commute time for women (61 minutes) to determine the number of extra days women would have to commute this year to equal the same amount of time men spent commuting to work last year: 4,500 / 18 = 74 days.)

The bottom chart above displays some really interesting data on the average amount of time spent commuting by paid workers by gender and by the presence (and ages) of children in the household (also from Table LMF2.6.A;  US data weren’t available for this part of the OECD study). Note that:

3. Having children is actually associated with a slight increase in commuting times on average for men in the 16 OECD countries in the bottom table.  In the UK, the average commute time increases by 2 minutes per day for men with young children (under 7 years old) and by 6 minutes per day for men with school aged children (7 to 17 years old).

4. In contrast to men with children, the average commute times in the OECD countries for women with children does change significantly – there is an average reduction of 4.6 minutes commuting time per day (1,150 minutes per year, or more than 19 hours) for women with young children (from 55.6 minutes to 51 minutes) and an average reduction of 3.9 minutes per day (975 minutes per year, or 16.25 hours) for women with school aged children (from 55.6 to 51.7 minutes).

5. In summary, the average “gender commute time gaps” for paid workers are as follows (from the bottom table above): a) 10.2% less commuting time per day for women vs. men in households without children (55.6 minutes for women vs. 61.9 minutes for men), b) 18% less commuting time per day for women vs. men in households with young children (51 vs. 62.1 minutes) and c) 17% less commuting time per day for women vs. men in households with children between 7 and 17 years of age.

Bottom Line: Behind the drive by gender activists and progressives for closing the “gender pay gap” – presumably to zero – is often the mistaken assumption that men and women are, or should be, completely interchangeable in their labor market and family roles. Those assumptions defy innate biological differences and the forces of Mother Nature. It’s an empirically supported fact that men have a much greater tolerance for (and attraction to) risk than women in many areas. For example, 91% of motorcycle deaths in 2015 were male, 93% of workplace fatalities in 2015 were men, 93.3% of the current federal prison population is male, and more than 90% of climbers attempting to climb Mount Everest between 1990 and 2005 were men. That higher male tolerance for risk helps explain some of the gender differences in pay – dangerous, higher risk jobs that are more physically demanding in harsh outdoor work conditions pay more on average than safer, lower risk jobs that are less physically demanding and are in pleasant, air-conditioned indoor offices. It’s also a biological reality that men can’t get pregnant and can’t breast feed, which means that men and women will always play different family roles in childbirth and breastfeeding, and other nurturing child care responsibilities.

We learn about other gender differences for workplace preferences and for family roles from the OECD “gender commute time gaps.” In 17 OECD countries, and especially in the U.S., men are disproportionately more tolerant of longer commute times than women, who on average prefer to work closer to home at job locations with a shorter commute. To the extent that longer commute times are associated with a greater selection of higher-paying jobs, longer average commute times for men would be another factor that would explain some of the aggregate, unadjusted gender differences in pay favoring men. Further, while having children has no effect on men’s average commute times (and in fact increases their commute times slightly), having children does seems to affect women’s preferences for even shorter commute times compared to when they are childless. This might suggest that women want more flexibility and shorter commute times after they have children so that they can more effectively provide family and child care services. In conclusion, the OECD data suggest that women on average place a premium on shorter commute times to work, and therefore may be willing to voluntarily accept fewer job options and lower pay for being able to work close to home, especially after they have children.

Q: To close the “gender pay gap” women might have to be willing to spend a lot more time commuting to higher paying jobs and close the 23% “gender commute time gap,” which is currently 4,500 minutes annually in the U.S., or 75 hours per year and more than nine 8-hour work days per year in additional commute time for men. Would that increased commute time really be worth it to most women? Based on their current “revealed preferences” for shorter commute times than men according to the OECD survey, I think the answer is obviously “No.”

(A previous version of this CD post was published last year.)

To bring attention to the 23% ‘gender commute time gap’ in the US, ‘Equal Commute Day’ for women fell on April 18

Mark Perry
Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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