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Is rush hour responsible for the gender pay gap?

Nobody really likes commuting. But some of us seem to like it less than others.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) looked into the relationship between commuting time and the likelihood that an employee would quit their job. They found that while a longer commute made everyone more likely to throw in the towel, the correlation was stronger for women than men, and strongest for women aged 30-59.

They also discovered that longer commutes tend to be linked to higher pay, possibly because high-salary jobs are clustered in city centres which are (a) congested and (b) too expensive for many employees to live in. So ONS concluded that women are on average more likely to prioritise time over money, and that this preference increases as they get older.

There are plenty of people who would pick more time relaxing or doing something they love over some extra cash. But ONS suspects that women’s apparent preference for short commutes was actually due to the fact that they were also spending more time than men on things like childcare. (The average age for British mums to have their first kid is 29, which is a similar age to when short commutes become most important.)

There's been a growing push, particularly from feminist economics, to see this sort of care and household work as a proper job, just like working in an office or factory or whatever. Although economists - and the rest of us - generally think of 'work' as something you're paid for, its technical definition is the human effort, both mental and physical, that goes into production, aka creating things of value. As kids can be seen things of value (by becoming things like workers and consumers and members of communities), and as you'd struggle to find a parent who doesn't agree that mental and physical effort goes into raising them, childcare seems to fit the definition of labour.

Which means that ONS' findings about women rejecting long commutes may not be a sign that on average women value time over money, but that many women don't have the time to place a premium on earning more money.

Read our explainer on: the gender pay gap.

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