Couples and Cars

Why do men do most of the driving? Recently I’ve posted articles showing that when men and women ride together the man is much more likely to be behind the wheel (see this link and this link). What do you, the readers, think about this?

Reader Sandy opined that:

I have observed that when couples or families are in a car men drive almost 100% of the time. In response and as a feminist, I decided to drive 50% of the time when my husband and I travel together in our car. We have received numerous comments from friends, always a variety of “what’s the matter with John-is he sick, a little drunk, etc?” I also have to deal with the perception that I am too domineering-really, I get sideways glances from male friends that show they think I’m some kind of weird feminist or even B…

One hundred eighty-three of you reported the man drives more in your relationship and only 51 reported the female partner does. Reader Andrew worried…

I would hate for some feminist group to use such a statistic as proof of their suffering.

If you’re out there, Andrew, you might want to hit the back button and take a look at what David Brooks had to say this week instead of reading further.

Women for too long have stood silent while men have acted inappropriately, using their size and strength as dominating force… And to those who think that this isn’t a feminist issue, you obviously haven’t experienced a lifetime of being held back because you have ovaries. I don’t plan to live my life in the passenger seat.


Even a few people who don’t have the benefit of ovaries agreed:

Men don’t want to hear it but we live in a Misogynistic [sic] society, do something about it and stop denying it.


If indeed men are indeed doing some oppressing here, why are they doing it? Plenty of you dug deep into the crevices of the male psyche and came up with subtle answers like:

Driving has become the modern day male’s equivalent to chest-beating.


I think the car is the last bastion of male dominance, When [sic] a man gets in a car with a woman, the “inner caveman” takes over.


Men are said to have a greater need for control and independence:

My two cents as a quasi-feminist: The driver is controlling the vehicle and thus is controlling the passengers as well. From a larger perspective, it is symbolic of male dominance.


Part of being a guy is just being more control-oriented-it’s the same with the TV channel-changer. They just need to flick through the channels, and they just need to drive.

f e

A male perspective:

I’d always simply assumed that the ladies allow us to drive so we can feel like we’re in charge of something vaguely important.

Mojo Bone

How do these roles develop? Some felt they are passed down from generation to generation:

I had relatively progressive parents-they told me I could do whatever I wanted as a girl-but there was still a huge difference in the kind of encouragement I received around learning to drive compared to by brother. (In fact, I’m pretty sure they actually winced when I passed by road test.) At early age [sic], boys are encouraged to play with cars and trucks and do activities that simulate driving. As parents, we’ve taken deliberate steps to shake up gender stereotypes in this area and others. Our four year old daughter is mastering a remote control helicopter and car (when I’m not trying to play with them myself), and she loves her new glow in the dark race track. Hopefully we’ll break the cycle.


On the other hand, one of my guinea pigs who read a draft of this post thought:

I found myself wondering why it is that boys like to play with cars and trucks more than girls. Any parent will tell you that this is definitely an innate preference and not socially conditioned. Little boys’ love of vehicles can’t be explained by evolutionary psychology, at least in a straightforward way. It’s obvious why young boys might be more violent/aggressive than girls, given the nature of primate social structure, but we didn’t evolve in an environment with dump trucks and sports cars. I guess they must somehow represent, in a fairly primal form, an embodiment of power and speed; hence the ability to dominate the external environment. Little girls’ mental energies by contrast are expended in mastering the social domain.


Some thought the culprit was the other institution-besides parents-that raises our children: television.

I have long been giving attention to… car commercials… It is almost always the man who is portrayed as doing the driving. Indeed, I have observed only two examples of the woman driving and the man riding-both, interestingly, from Volkswagon [sic].


Car commercials tend to target the genders differently: “boy” commercials show “men being men”-off-roading or racing along the countryside; “girl” commercials show “women being mothers”-getting groceries or ferrying kids around. That is, men tend to be having fun while driving and women tend to be doing work.


The next posts will look at some more comments, including some which really surprised me-and stood the opinion in these posts on its head. And I’ll try to answer the truly burning question here: should we care about any of this, or am I just wasting your precious time? More soon.


I let my husband drive because he is annoying when I drive. He will tell me what to do. When he does this, I slow down. Or worse, I pull over and wait. That usually shuts him up.


My husband usually drives because I'm disabled; my friend always drives because she's disabled (motion sickness). Do we cancel each other out?

Carlo Coello

I think that not every male/female interaction deserves a profound sociological analysis, like this one. In my case I guess is an issue of courtesy towards women and the way I was raised, than a discriminatory or male dominance issue. So yeah, in my opinion is kind of a waste of time, to think more than three seconds about this.


There are two types of people in this world: men and women. As children, it is easily observable that the different sexes like different things. For example, boys like toy soldiers, car toys, and game balls (generally). Girls pick other types of toys, more delicate in manner, such as dolls and jewelry sets (generally). I am not saying that if a child from a certain sex picks a toy from the other is wrong, I am just stating what happens in more than 50% of the cases.

Once the children reach adult stage, the boy is much more interested, in the car. The man gains much more happiness and/or utility from driving the car, therefore in any balanced relationship the woman should let the man drive. Just as the man should join the woman in a shopping spree, or something like that.

My opinion is that a greater portion of the population of men rather than women actually WANT to drive rather than drive because of necessity.


Jonathan Zwergel

Men drive more because men want to drive more than women. My wife doesn't care who drives and I do. If another man and I are going somewhere I still want to drive. If he wants to drive too it comes down to who's car it is or who knows the way better.

If women want to drive they should argue about it with us. Then they can drive even though they don't want to and men can sit in the passenger seat and be irritable.

Aren't modern relationships fun?


I'm a little surprised by the feminist point of view on this (or maybe not so surprised on second thought - freakonomics is all about how statistics can be used, after all). In my marriage, my husband does do most of the driving. Before we had kids, this was often after a debate about who HAD to drive. Neither of us generally want to. Now we've got a baby in the backseat, so I typically get out of driving because I have better luck calming a screaming kid. The childcare factors may have some feminist implications, but in our household, it's never a question of the woman GETTING to drive. I'd much rather be driven (and more often than not, get my way).

Jessi E

I spend 2+ hours each workday behind the wheel as part of my commute, while my husband commutes via train. He loves to drive and rarely has the opportunity to do so, I detest it and welcome any opportunity for a break. When we go out together, driving is a treat for him and - having him drive - provides a respite for me.

Margaret Rader

Re Couples and Cars: This changes in old age. You see many older women driving old men around. The woman may be several years younger than the man and therefore hasn't reached the "the kids took away my car keys" age. The man may drive just fine but have knee problems or something similar that makes it more comfortable to be a passenger. Older women get more assertive and confident. Every generalization has exceptions.

Oppressed Male Driver

I drive because my wife makes me. Is she really oppressed if she wants to be? I think there are several factors in play. One, I think she likes the idea of me being manly. Two, she likes to nap, or at least relax, when we drive. Third, she's the one of the two of us much better sized and capable of hoping into the backseat of our moving mini-van if the kids need something. All else equal, I'd prefer she drive. To me, it is a chore, and I'd like to nap occassionally. Can someone please tell her to be a feminist?


My husband drives more because driving is an annoying chore and I'm bright enough to let someone else do it if they're willing to.


My wife makes me drive at least 75% of the time. Mostly because I'm a terrible backseat (side seat?) driver.

She'll usually drive if I insist, or at night since I have poor night vision.

Jeff Dean

Men drive because their fathers drove. Their fathers drove because grandfathers drove. The grandfathers drove because grandmothers weren't allowed to.

Some oddities reflect nothing more than perpetual habit.

Dan Porter

What about common courtesy? Much like holding the door open for a lady, driving for many is an act of service. I drive my wife so she can relax in the passenger seat.

When I go out with other men at work, we always thank the driver, we don't fight to be the one who drives.

If you don't think that driving is a chore, just ask yourself how many people go out for pleasure drives on busy freeways.

Douglas Warren

Is anyone here familiar with the concept of a chauffeur? I hate to drive but do the majority of it simply because it gives my wife the gift of time. She can call her friends and and do other things instead of taking on the task of driving.


Admittedly, not a perfect analogy, but you might want to think about the driving gap in the context of the taking-out-the-trash gap. to me driving is work and I'd prefer to chill out in the passenger seat. I view driving as doing the chick a favor.


Why is it the women being oppressed that someone else handles driving for them? Men have to be pretty wealthy or prominent to have someone do all their driving for them, women get it for free. It is a gender stereotype that works in women's favor, which is why I presume you don't hear much about it.


In my past two relationships, the guy usually drove/drives when we go out to dinner or someplace special because he has the nicer car. No kidding--that's why. I enjoy driving, but either have a lower income or am just not as willing to spend as much on my vehicle. When running errands or other mundane tasks, vehicle size is often the primary consideration. (Yep, his is bigger.)

Additionally, while I enjoy driving and prefer to be in control, having him drive is essentially letting him perform a service for me, which men like to do. At dinner, I do not have to worry about how much wine I drink or how tired I am. This is a form of him taking care of me, which I appreciate.

Lastly, when the woman drives, I think a man feels that she is taking care of him, or doing something he ought to be doing. It makes him a little uncomfortable. Also, men associate their cars with status and control, so handing over the keys to anyone else symbolically relinquishes these things to her.

A question: in your family, when the teenager takes the car out, is it usually Mom's car or Dad's?



What if it's comparative advantage? I am a terrible driver and could probably kill both me and my husband much easier in a tricky situation. What would roads and cars look like if women dominated the world? I think the "women don't find driving fun and have better things to do" somewhere closer to the truth. WHY the difference in preferences/tastes is also a valid question.


I agree with the above comment,

Is it really oppression if I want to be "oppressed"?

Now if I wanted to drive and DIDN'T because of oppression, that's discrimination. But I figure a large majority of women would ask if they wanted to and their husbands would say yes.


If you're living with a man that doesn't let you drive when you want to (or at least share), then you are married to the wrong man. You put yourself in that position. Ask yourself why.