Commuting time and the gender gap in labor market participation

Open Access       

Authors: Lídia Farré, Jordi Jofre-Monseny and Juan Torrecillas

Journal of Economic Geography, Vol. 23, No 4, 847–870, July, 2023

In this article, we investigate the contribution of increasing travel times to the persistent gender gap in labor market participation. In doing so, we estimate the effect of commuting times on the labor supply of men and women in the USA using microdata from the censuses of the last two decades. To address endogeneity concerns, we adopt an instrumental variables approach that exploits the shape of cities as an exogenous source of variation for travel times. Our estimates indicate that a 10-min increase in commuting time decreases the probability of married women participating in the labor market by 4.4 percentage points. In contrast, the estimated effect on men is small and statistically insignificant. When exploring potential mechanisms behind the gender asymmetry in our results, we do not find evidence that differences in labor market productivity within couples contribute to the larger penalty of commuting times on women. However, we do find that the negative effect on women increases with the number of children and is larger among those originating from countries with more gendered social norms. Based on this evidence, we conclude that in a context of increasing commuting costs the presence of gender norms that attribute to women the role of main caregivers may prevent gender convergence.