Childcare constraints forcing more women to work closer to home

A disproportionate share of childcare responsibilities results in women working closer to the home, potentially contributing to the gender pay gap, new data has revealed.

Women in every region of the UK apart from London are more likely than men to live within a 15-minute commute to their place of work, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The pattern is reversed for longer commutes, adding to a so-called gender commuting gap. Some 61% of commuters who travel for more than an hour are men, the data shows. In the east of England men represent more than three-quarters of those who spend more than an hour travelling.

The constraint on commuting longer distances is thought by economists to be one of multiple contributing factors to the gender pay gap, as women are limited in their choice of work, even if it pays more.

Analysis of similar data by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) thinktank shows that the difference in commuting times is largely driven by women working closer to home in the decade after having their first child. Fatherhood has little effect on men’s travel times.

Agnes Norris Keiller, a research economist at the IFS, said the gender commuting gap “closely mirrors the gender wage gap”, although economists have yet to establish a direct causal link.

“There are several reasons why shorter commutes might constrain women’s wages,” she said. “All the major UK political parties are committed to reducing the gender wage gap – so more evidence is needed to shed light on how it’s linked to commuting patterns.”

The rise of the gender commuting gap comes in the context of rapidly increasing commuting times for people of all genders.

The number of people spending more than an hour on their commute has risen by almost a third since 2011, the ONS said. The figures echo previous findings by the Trade Union Congress, which found a similar 31% rise in the number of two-hour slogs to work between 2011 and 2016.

Despite the overall UK gender commuting gap, the rise of longer commutes by London’s women is the driving force behind the broader increase in travel times. The number of women travelling more than an hour to work in the capital has increased by 46% in the last seven years, the ONS said.

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