Excessive Traffic Keeping Women Out of the Workforce

rush-hour traffic on an LA freewayAccording to a recent analysis of U.S. census data, New York City has the lowest proportion of women in the workforce, with only 49% participating, and Minneapolis boasts the highest, with roughly 80% of the female population holding down jobs.

A detailed analysis of the data by economists finds that the most influential barrier to having more women in the workplace is not social pressures, day care costs or family unfriendly corporate policies but rather the biggest bane to all workers–high-income, middle-income, male and female alike: traffic.

Married women in New York and Minneapolis seem to be taking into account some things that are specific to their cities when deciding to work or not. Surprisingly, the economists argue, the most important specific thing seems to be traffic.

Time spent in traffic is costly, so as congestion increases there may be a certain point where married women decide to either drop out of the labor force or not join it in the first place. The data seem to back this up.

Looking back over time, “Cities in which commuting time increased most rapidly generally also experienced slower growth in female labor force participation,” write the researchers.

With transportation being as crowded and expensive as it is in New York City, can you blame a woman for choosing to opt-out of the daily grind?

And for women who do choose to work, longer commute times tend to equate to longer work hours overall:

As for the women who are employed, rising congestion seems to go in hand with working more hours. If commute times increased by one minute, the researchers found that married women spent an additional three to six hours working per year.

The same thing happens for men. If the commute time is longer by 20 minutes in one city compared to another – that’s close to the difference between Nashville and New York — then a man in NYC is likely to work an extra week each year.

With working men and women spending ever increasing hours at the office, is it any wonder that personal relationships are suffering and that divorce rates are high?

Studies have shown that ambitious women (in the case of one study, specifically women who earned advanced degrees in professional fields such as business, law, or medicine) tend to divorce at higher rates than men with advanced degrees and women with only an undergraduate degree. Conceivably, these women are more focused on their careers and spend more time outside the home.

But is this the woman’s fault? Should she feel guilty for wanting to pursue her own dreams instead of supporting those of her husband?

If cities had better public transportation or there were more jobs located in the areas in which we live, would women have more time for domestic duties and therefore create happier, more stable marriages?

Having endured a 75-minute commute for several years to be closer to a boyfriend, I can definitely attest to the impact a commute has on job as well as overall satisfaction. Not to mention the resentment and toll the long travel times placed on my relationship. The last thing I’d want to do after my 10-hour day was come home and wash dishes or do the laundry. And several studies of marriages have shown that balanced-sharing of household chores is a main factor in marital satisfaction and success.

What is so intriguing about census data analysis is that it suggests that simple urban planning changes, such as bicycle lanes, increased bus service, or strategic zoning laws stitch together the very thread of our cultural fabric. Building so-called “urban villages” that incorporate commercial services, office parks as well as residential communities in a central location could ultimately be the secret to success for the working woman, who would spend less time in a car and more time building important personal relationships at home.

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  1. Pingback: policies and strategic studies

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