The World Bank recently financed an urban mobility survey in greater Buenos Aires to explore the gender dimension of commuting – an issue we (and our co-author Catalina Ochoa) have been interested in for quite some time.
There is plenty of evidence that even in relatively sophisticated middle class settings such as in Buenos Aires, ‘traditional’ gender roles survive – women, particularly women with children, have more complex travel patterns than their male counterparts. They travel more, they have more travel needs at off-peak hours than men, and these non-work travel needs are often associated with fixed destinations (e.g. child care). The mobility survey confirmed that the trends observed in Buenos Aires were similar to findings across the world including Europe, US[i]
, as well as nations in the global south like Peru and Vietnam[ii]
Comparing men and women’s mobility patterns: Women spend as much time commuting as men, but cover shorter distances
We were interested in finding out how these constraints may affect women’s job opportunities. Somewhat to our surprise, our initial look at the data did not highlight any significant differences; average commute times for men and women in the labor force were about the same (47.47min and 47.10 min respectively) across all income and socio-economic groups. This similarity of men and women’s average commute time is consistent with a body of evidence[iii]
that suggests that average commute times across societies, trip types, travel time dispersions and income levels remains quite stable.
However, once we started taking a closer look at our data, we found out that those similarities in men and women’s commuting patterns were largely deceptive: as geo-coded trip patterns reveal, men and women’s average commuting times may be roughly the same, but men actually travel at significantly faster speeds and, as a consequence, cover larger distances. In general, trips made by women, particularly women with children were made at significantly lower travel speeds. (see table below: women with children, for instance, travel an average distance of 7.92km at an average speed of 9.98km/hr, as opposed to an average distance of 9.96km for men with children, which translates into a speed of 12.27km/hr).