Daniel Parker: The commuting gap – a long way from equality


Research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) titled The commuting gap: Men account for 65% of commutes lasting more than an hour, published in November 2018, provides an important insight for employers entering what may be their fourth annual round of gender pay gap reporting.

The ONS looked at the relationship between gender, pay and commuting time to find striking conclusions; women are more likely than men to leave their job due to a longer commute, leading to a ‘commuting gap’.

A long commute makes both men and women more likely to leave their job. However, commuting has a particularly severe impact on women’s working lives. The research demonstrates that women tend to seek a shorter trip to work, despite this being strongly associated with substantially lower pay. The ONS believes this is due to the disproportionate childcare burden still borne by women; this is consistent with worsening pay inequality from individuals’ mid-20s onwards, which is around the average age of a first-time mother.

The decision to prioritise a short trip to work is, in part, the product of personal relationships, preferences and budgets. At a wider level, housing availability and childcare costs also have an influence.

However, this is not to say that organisations can ignore the effect of travel time on their workforce. If encouraged at all levels, flexible working has the potential to narrow the gap and reduce the costs of replacing women who feel the need to leave their workplace because of unmanageably long commutes.

Even more subtle practices may have an impact, too, such as adequate IT for remote working, planning for travel disruption and a sympathetic attitude towards personal emergencies.

This research pulls together trends which many organisations may well have been aware of. However, its real value is in making us reflect on the complex causes of the gender pay gap, including the mundane journey to work.

Daniel Parker is solicitor in the employment team at Winckworth Sherwood