In Relationships, Are Men in the Driver’s Seat?

In the past, I’ve written on matters of high import for the future of our republic, and on literal questions of life and death. But clearly, nothing excites the Freakonomics readership more than the issue of why men tend to do the driving when a couple is in the car. The Times‘s server nearly melted down as more than 400 of you posted responses to my article on the subject.

I was quite interested to hear your ideas, specifically on how and why you apportion the driving chores in your own relationships. So I went through your posts quite thoroughly.

An exasperated “Tamarisk” reported the topic makes him (her?) “soooooo glad to be gay.” But for those who are curious and have jobs, families, hobbies, or lives which prevent them from reading all 400, I thought I’d pass on the distilled wit and wisdom of those who commented.

Any peer reviewer with a pulse would hound me out of the profession for claiming the sample of responders is representative of the population at large. For example, over three quarters of those who posted were women, and I strongly doubt that this lopsided split reflects the Freakonomics readership, let alone the population as a whole. But the skewed response rate in and of itself says something interesting: it seems that women are more thoughtful and passionate about the driving imbalance, while men take it for granted as a fact of life.

In a nutshell, what did I find? 183 people reported the man is the primary driver in their relationship, versus 51 who said the woman handles more of the driving chores. (37 said the driving is split more or less evenly.) No big surprise – the male domination of the wheel reported here confirms the story we’ve seen in the other data. (Though on the other hand, some of you might consider the level of female driving reported here surprisingly high.)

Some of the reasons you gave for men driving more were a bit offbeat:

  • One of you (a woman) said her partner drives more due to the awkwardness of working the pedals with high heels.
  • Several of you said that you believe the pattern is formed during courtship, when the man is expected to pick the woman up for dates, not vice versa. Sheer inertia was said to take over from there.
  • A number of people reported that alcohol consumption plays a major role. Five women wrote they drive more on leisure trips because their partner drinks more than they do. On the other hand, a couple of people reported that the man drives more because he is better able to hold his liquor.
  • One woman stated she takes the wheel more frequently because she is far more adept than her husband at evading traffic tickets.
  • There seems to be a bit of a perception gap when it comes to navigation. Fourteen women claimed they are superior at finding the way, and no women reported their husband is. Five men averred that they are the better navigator, and only one man confessed that his wife is. I won’t wade into this thorny dispute, except to note that it only partially explains the division of driving duties. Some of the “superior navigators” prefer to be behind the wheel and in control, while others reported they deliberately ride shotgun to handle the maps, etc.
  • Fourteen people stated that the woman sits in the passenger seat to entertain and care for the children in back. In only one case was the man reported as usually drawing that duty. While this may in part explain the male/female driving phenomenon, you’ll have to go find another blogger to get a explanation of why the childcare imbalance occurs in the first place.

More weighty and fundamental issues were also raised. Some were what I expected, but others were quite surprising. Because of the sheer number of observations – and the fact that my eyes glaze over at the sight of a super-long blog post just like yours do – I’m going to pick this thread up again soon.

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  1. nanvan says:

    Huh, seems that they have been for a terribly long time. Perhaps that’s why things are in such a mess. I believe that now that more women are taking control of so much, in business and parts of governmen,t things will improve greatly. Maybe these war mongering males will find that women can accomplish much more with common sense and negotiation instead of going off half cocked (pardon the pun).

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  2. Barbara Smith says:

    I would believe the inertia argument. When my man and I were dating, I owned a car and he did not, so of course I did most (read:all) of the driving. We dated for 5 years until he got a car so I have done all of the driving when we are together save a couple of long road trips and times I’ve been sick and he had to drive me to the hospital!

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  3. Bill says:

    Our country is a war.

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  4. joshua says:

    There is an easy explanation for this. I drive because I have a penis.

    The first time I used this line to explain my behavior, my girlfriend cracked up at this seemingly idiotic rationale. It has since become my de facto response in any situation where I don’t feel like explaning why it is I do what I do (and for which…there may be no real explanation).

    I strongly encourage male readers to adopt my response whenenver you get the annoying “why” questions. If your girfriend has any sense of humor at all, it should make your life easier.

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  5. Travis L says:

    nanvan,
    I can’t tell if you’re half joking, trolling, or serious. In any case, excellent use of such inflammatory terms!

    I’ll respond by suggesting that we have one example where females are receiving board level positions in companies, by law. It’s happening all over Europe, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/world/europe/28iht-quota.html for the article.

    The key quote: “Bringing large numbers of women into Norway’s boardrooms has done little – yet – to improve either the professional caliber of the boards or to enhance corporate performance.”

    For the record, I’m a believer in the Dilbert theory of gender, which basically says that everyone is a weasel, regardless of how they pee.

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  6. Bill says:

    I drive because my wife’s driving makes me nervous – it’s that simple.

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  7. Dave says:

    I am the driver for one simple reason – I am 100% deaf in my left ear, while only 85% in my right. In the driver’s seat, I have my “good” ear pointed to my partner. In the passenger’s seat, my good ear is pointed to the window. So it’s purely pragmatic.

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  8. Karen says:

    I didn’t comment earlier, but hey, I’ll go ahead and do so now since I don’t see either of these factors mentioned in the blog post.

    I do about 3/4 of our in-town driving because I am a terrible, terrible, terrible passenger. My boyfriend’s perception distance is about half of mine, and even though he’s never caused an accident, I find this terrifying. It’s easier just to take the wheel. He doesn’t seem to mind, and often asks me to drive if he thinks I know where we’re going.

    We split highway driving 50/50. He gets more speeding tickets and I get bigger ones, so we just look out for each other.

    Either way, we almost always use his car, an automatic, because I get upset when he grinds my gears.

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