Why U.S. women don't bike: blame it on the childcare and the chores
Over the years at TreeHugger we've written about possible reasons that the cycling gap between genders exists, and why it is so difficult to close. Already some years ago we wrote about author Elly Blue's theory that women's lower earning power and larger chunk of household duties made it harder for them to bike.
Turns out, Blue's theory - at least the part about women having more household duties - is bolstered with some data.
A study from UCLA's Kelcie Ralph and Michael Smart shows that U.S. women's lives – at least, straight women's lives – are more filled with domestic chores and duties. Huff and Ralph studied non-commute travel in households - they used data between 2003 and 2012 from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) for their findings. ATUS respondents kept detailed diaries of their travel over a single day, allowing the researchers to see what tradeoffs household members make to go places and do things.
Smart and Ralph's report documented that even when U.S. straight women earn more, are better educated, and work more hours than their male counterparts, they still make more 'child-serving' trips and more slogs to the grocery!
They found that: "straight women do the the most household-serving labor and related travel, and straight men the least."
Same-sex couples, the data showed, are a little more egalitarian in their division of the work. What Ralph and Huff's work shows is that the "gender gap in schlepping" isn't actually changing or closing much in traditional, heterosexual couples in the U.S.
What's still not proven through this research, though, is whether this increased drudgery actually prohibits biking by women. Ralph and Smart say this:
"Combining commuting, errands, and hauling kids is easiest to do in a private vehicle, and hard to do on a bicycle or public transit, which helps to explain high-levels of driving among middle-aged women."
That feels true, but it's not actual causation.
In a recent Guardian article Ralph and UCLA colleague Herbie Huff study the Dutch example of gender biking parity and compare it to the US gap. In the Netherlands, Huff and Ralph say, better family leave policies mean Dutch parents divide childcare responsibilities more evenly; work weeks are shorter; more parents have part-time jobs, and overall the Dutch seem to shuttle their kids around in cars less overall. That means less time pressure of Dutch women. And Huff and Ralph say, more time for bike travel.
As there currently are U.S. women pursuing transportation biking with balancing career and home duties, it would be great to see some research money spent on actually figuring out what makes those who do choose to bike for their daily trips actually able to do so!