An Overlooked Reason for the Gender Gap in Wages: Attitudes Towards Commuting

An Overlooked Reason for the Gender Gap in Wages: Attitudes Towards Commuting


Women are more willing than men to accept lower wages in exchange for a shorter commute, shedding light on a previously overlooked factor contributing to wage inequality. Gender differences to attitudes towards commuting and their impact on salary are documented in a study by Bocconi Associate Professor of Economics Thomas Le Barbanchon, Roland Rathelot (University of Warwick) and Alexandra Roulet (INSEAD), published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
“We were able to show that there is a different valuation of commuting time between men and women. Women value working closer to home more than men. And this translates into lower wages,” explained Professor Le Barbanchon.
The study used a sample of around 300,000 workers drawn from a matched dataset of French unemployment and employment registers between 2006 and 2012, restricted to people who lost their jobs involuntarily. French job seekers must declare to the Public Employment Service (PES) the minimum wage (reservation wage) and the maximum commute they are willing to accept.  Gender differences in commuting have been analyzed in terms of urban planning, but not regarding wages. The authors constructed an empirical analysis that showed how much women and men were willing to “pay” for a shorter commute.
The authors found that men said their maximum acceptable commute was 14% higher on average than women: from 8% for single individuals without children to 24% for married individuals with children. “These gender differences in reservation job attributes translate into women getting paid lower wages and having a shorter commute upon re-employment,” the authors write, suggesting that “the contribution to the wage gap of gender differences in commute valuation is of the same order of magnitude as other well-studied job attributes such as flexible working time and/or job security.”
The reasons why women prefer a shorter commute are unclear and exist also when they do not have children. It may be related to children, “but that is not the whole story,” notes Professor Le Barbanchon. The commute gap is lower for urban areas with public transport.
In terms of policy recommendations, technological progress that lowers the firms’ cost of remote work has the potential to further decrease the gender wage gap. More generally, public policies on urban planning and transportation have the potential to change commuting patterns differently for men and women and may have differential effects on their wages, the paper said.
Thomas Le Barbanchon, Roland Rathelot, Alexandra Roulet, “Gender Differences in Job Search: Trading off Commute against Wage,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 136, Issue 1, February 2021, Pages 381–426. DOI: 10.1093/qje/qjaa033.

by Jennifer Clark Bocconi Knowledge newsletter


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