Study: Married women tend to work close to home

by Bei Hu

Though the percentage of women participating in the labor force in the Twin Cities is about 20 percent above the national average, there are still gender disparities in employment patterns, according to a study funded by the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.
The investigation, based on 1990 census data of some 8,000 dual-earner metro households, which represent approximately one-third of the Twin Cities’ work force, found married women generally found jobs closer to home and made less money than their husbands.
“In contrast to men, women are far less likely to accept job offers that require very long commutes,” said the study’s author Elvin Wyly, a former University graduate student who teaches in Rutgers University’s Department of Geography.
On average, married women in the Twin Cities spend 20 minutes on the way to work — 3.3 minutes less than their spouses. This finding is consistent with previous studies, which have reported an average two- or three-minute difference from the commutes of married male and female workers across the United States.
Wyly also found that the further the couples lived from the job-rich central cities and well-developed southwest suburbs, the wider the gap between their commute times became.
Like previous studies, the tabulation takes into account such detours as dropping off children at school, which is usually done by women. Such responsibilities, when taken into consideration, said Wyly, could reveal a greater gender gap in length of trips to work.
Small as they sometimes are, these disparities in travel patterns are an indicator of a larger problem that has long troubled feminists and like-minded social reformers.
“Mainly, the work trip tells us that the relationship between home and work is still very different for women than it is for men,” Wyly said.
“Women still retain most responsibility for housework and child care,” he added. “So when they return to the labor force, they often do so locally.”
Wyly found that about one-third of Twin Cities women held administrative support positions — clerical jobs that have become devalued with industrialization.
Of those living either in the flourishing southwest suburbs or in the north where there are fewer jobs, husbands routinely made five or six dollars an hour more than their wives.
Reluctance to take jobs far from home tends to restrict women’s employment prospects.
“The kinds of job opportunities that women are likely to find within that restricted radius will depend critically on where they live,” Wyly noted.
These findings have an added tinge of irony in Minnesota, which has some of the most extensive legislation in the country to address income disparities between male and female employees in state and local government. The state passed a series of comparable-worth laws in the early 1980s that mandate equal pay in the public sector between traditionally male- and female-dominated jobs that require equivalent training and responsibilities.
Although she has not read the study, University history professor Sara Evans said Wyly’s findings were, nevertheless, not surprising.
She suggested that the problems revealed by the study were not to be tackled by a few comparable-worth bills.
This kind of legislation “tends to be fairly technical,” she said. “It also does not address the issue of women having access to the full range of job opportunities.”