Women’s Shorter Commutes Do Not Constrain Wages, Cause The Gender Pay Gap


The Office for National Statistics tells us that men are the majority of long distance commuters and that women tend to have shorter commutes than men. This is said to be about childcare and thus a contributor to the gender pay gap. Well, yes, maybe – it’s an interesting contention at least – but isn’t really what is happening. Rather, men and women are making slightly different decisions about work and children and it’s that which causes both the difference in commutes and also the wage gap. You might want to describe this as a subtlety of no importance but you’d be wrong to do so. For the difference makes a, umm, difference to what we might do about anything.

If it’s the choices causing both then both will be solved by changing the choices. If it’s child care, or commuting, causing the pay gap, then changing child care or commuting will change the pay gap. As ever, the cause will determine what should or even can be done about the perceived problem:

A disproportionate share of childcare responsibilities results in women working closer to the home, potentially contributing to the gender pay gap, new data has revealed.

Women in every region of the UK apart from London are more likely than men to live within a 15-minute commute to their place of work, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The pattern is reversed for longer commutes, adding to a so-called gender commuting gap. Some 61% of commuters who travel for more than an hour are men, the data shows. In the east of England men represent more than three-quarters of those who spend more than an hour travelling.

The constraint on commuting longer distances is thought by economists to be one of multiple contributing factors to the gender pay gap, as women are limited in their choice of work, even if it pays more.

The full statistics are here from the ONS.

Men undertake almost two-thirds of commutes lasting more than an hour, new analysis shows.

It also reveals that women tend to undertake shorter journeys to work, accounting for more than half (55%) of commutes lasting 15 minutes or less.

The facts are fine. It’s how we read them and then what we do about it that matters.

So, we could say, well, women do more child care, this is because child care isn’t free nor convenient, this limits commuting possibilities and thus women’s pay – the gender pay gap! Spend more on child care and the pay gap will disappear.

Sure, that’s possible but that’s not the way we’d read it around here. Instead, male and female responses – on average, of course – to the arrival of children differ. It’s not that women are oppressed by the patriarchy into the majority of child care, it’s a normal response from a sexually dimorphic mammalian species. It is this which leads to the pay gap itself, the commute and child care things being corollaries of that initial preference.

If this is true – note the if – then what’s the public policy response? Nothing, obviously. For the correct and righteous world is the outcome of the freely made choices of us the peeps. If this is how we wish to live then that’s that. If it is true that there’s a sexual division of labour over children then, well, there’s a sexual division of labour over children. Nothing need be done about it.

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