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Length of employees’ commutes ‘fuelling gender pay gap’

5 Sep 2019 By Siobhan Palmer

ONS suggests women are sacrificing salary in exchange for shorter journeys to work, increasing pay disparity

Commuting times may be contributing to the gender pay gap, according to a study published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

Analysis of official data by the ONS found that longer commutes were associated with higher pay for both men and women, but that women spent 20 per cent less time traveling to work, which it said fuelled the problem of gender pay disparity.

In 2018, there was an 8.6 per cent pay gap between men and women working full time, according to ONS analysis of the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

Its report found that both the gender pay gap and the gender gap in commuting times started to widen when workers reached their late 20s, which the report’s author, Vahé Nafilyan, said implied the disparity may be linked to having children. The average age of a first-time mother was 28.8 in 2017. 



The report also found that women were more likely to leave a job because of a long commute, valuing the flexibility of shortened travel times over higher pay. The opposite was true for men, who were shown to be more motivated by reward and were therefore likely to travel further for work.

Women with a commute of 50 minutes or longer were almost 30 per cent more likely to leave their current job than someone undertaking a 10-minute commute, whereas among men the difference was 23.9 per cent.

Amber Rudd, women and equalities minister, said the findings highlighted the struggle women faced in balancing career and family. “These statistics show how women are likely sacrificing a larger paypacket, and career growth, because they are doing the bulk of childcare and unpaid work,” she said.

Chloe Chambraud, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said most men agreed they should play as active a role in raising children as women, but that the difference in commuting times made this difficult.

“We can see that the trend for men’s commutes increasing by 50 per cent as they get older would naturally make this much harder. At the same time, we can also see how women having to choose a shorter commute over a more lucrative role by default could play an important role in the ongoing gender pay gap,” said Chambraud.

She added that men were also less likely than women to request flexible working, but said they were more likely to take up flexible working if they were confident it would not impact on their career prospects.

“Employers need to do more to support employees of all genders so they are free to choose the role that’s right for them,” Chambraud said.

The ONS figures showed that men’s commutes increased from an average of 10-15 minutes at 16 years old to a peak of 26 minutes in their mid-30s. By comparison, women’s average commute times peaked at 22 minutes in their late 20s before declining steadily from their early 30s.

Similarly, men accounted for 65 per cent of all commutes lasting more than an hour, and women were more likely to make commutes of 15 minutes or less in every area of the UK apart from London.

However, while the report found that commuting times were increasing across the board, this increase was starker among women than men. The number of women with long commutes has risen 39 per cent since 2011, compared to an increase of 27 per cent rise for men, suggesting that the gap could be closing over time.

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