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Men or Women: Who Travel More?

Typically, I run my stuff past a few test readers to see if it will meet the lofty standards of Freakworthiness. Reactions were mixed on my plan to do a series on gender and travel (see the first installments here). Some thought it was bound to be a bore because, duh, of course men’s and women’s travel patterns are going to be very different. Others thought it was bound to be a bore because, duh, of course in this day and age men’s and women’s travel patterns are going to be very similar. There was widespread sentiment that I’m going to bore you — but who was right about why?
I’ve been working with data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which asks people what they’re doing on a minute-by-minute basis. These data are a treasure trove for social scientists and anybody interested in the way Americans live (Levitt begged to have it saved from the chopping block here. Cheery facts abound: for example, Americans with kids report spending about five minutes a day on their children’s education and two hours and twelve minutes a day watching television.
Place your bets: who spends more time traveling, men or women?
According to the ATUS, between 2003 and 2007 adult Americans averaged about one hour and fifteen minutes of travel daily. Men averaged an hour and eighteen minutes: women, an hour and thirteen. This difference is statistically significant, but in all I’d call a five-minute disparity strikingly small.
We can dig deeper using the empirical economist’s best friend, a mathematical technique called regression. Regression is a statistical technique that helps to untangle which factors are truly important for a particular outcome and which factors are relatively trivial.
We need to do regression here because men and women differ, on average, in ways besides mere gender. For example, women tend to live longer than men, so taken as a group they are a bit older. Perhaps observed differences between men and women are actually due to age, not sex.
To construct a regression model, you feed in the variables that you think work in concert to affect your outcome — in this case, daily travel time. I used age; number of children in the household; number of adults in the household; race/ethnicity; living in a center city, suburb, or nonmetropolitan area; family income; hours worked; weekly wages; and travel mode, specifically mass transit ridership.
Which variables matter? The numbers show that age is an important factor in determining how much we travel. Holding all the other variables constant (including, importantly, income), daily travel time is predicted to rise till we are about age 36, peak there, and then begin to decline.
Controlling for the other variables, those who live in suburbs are projected to travel about five minutes more per day than others.
Both family incomes and hours worked make a big difference. All else equal, more of each is associated with more travel.
Perhaps the most stark relationship is between travel time and transit ridership. All else equal, travelers who go by bus or train, even for one minute in the day, are predicted to spend about an hour a day more traveling than those who also travel but do so exclusively by car and/or on foot. This disparity holds up even when controlling for the fact that transit riders also walk a lot, and for the fact that they are more likely to live in New York City. But this is a story for another time.
And what of gender? Controlling for the other factors, men and women are even more similar than the simple averages indicate. In fact, there is very little travel-time difference between the sexes.
Thanks to the magic of regression, we discover that the majority of the small difference between the two genders can be explained by hours worked (the study finds men average 50 percent more than women) and family income (very roughly, the study shows that men have family incomes about $5,000 a year higher than women’s). Controlling for these characteristics, we find that men and women have daily travel times that are within about 1.2 minutes of each other. Given that mean travel times are over 70 minutes, total travel by gender is pretty close to identical.
And lest you doubt my fancy statistical hocus pocus, here’s some corroboration: according to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, men and women both take an average of about 4.1 trips per day.
Bored yet? You may be, but don’t blame the data: the finding that men and women travel virtually the same amount is dramatic, cast-iron proof that we have reached a golden age of complete gender equality in America.
Or is it? More coming up.