Transport is one of the sectors emitting the most greenhouse gases, accounting for 19 percent of the world’s total energy use. In the EU, the transport sector is responsible for one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions. In developing countries and emerging economies, emissions from the transport sector are also on the rise (1).


Research has shown that women and men have different transportation patterns. For example, men are more likely to drive private cars, whereas women use public modes of transportation more often. Men also travel longer distances than women. Why do women and men have such different patterns of travel? There are several explanations for the differences (2), some having to do with structural and spatial explanations, but also others that are connected to the cultural influences and expectations that steer women’s and men’s behaviour:

Structural explanations connected to work and home

Studies show that people in higher labour market positions travel farther. Women’s shorter travel distances therefore reflect the segregation of the labour market. The difference seems to be evening out as women’s labour market participation is increasing, and well-educated women travel farther than women with less education. Young, well-educated women still do not drive as much as men, but they drive more often than older women (3). For women, being responsible for the home influences their desire for a shorter commute between work and home and results in women making more local trips than men.

Spatial explanations

Where are workplaces, residential areas and free-time activities located? What transportation patterns does this require? Studies show that the labour market is sharply segregated in terms of the location of workplaces. Male-dominated workplaces (finance/office sectors) are often situated in the heart of urban areas, whereas female-dominated workplaces (schools, day-care centres) are located in scattered, suburban areas. These circumstances affect women’s and men’s transport patterns and needs.

The impact of culture

Cultural conceptions about cars are part of a gendered universe, in which controlling technology and a fascination with speed are manifestations of masculine competence, while women’s relationship with cars is presented from the perspective of user-friendliness, security and responsibility.


Men and women are often expected to have different abilities and types of engagement in different areas, which presumably also affects their choice of transport. Skill (2008) has described how people give themselves ecological “action space” in how they view environmental questions and deal with everyday life. If there is an expectation that women are interested in environmental issues, this too can have consequences for their action space.

Taken together, all of these factors result in differences in women’s and men’s patterns of travel. In order to target investments most efficiently and create a sustainable system of transport, it is necessary to know about the differences that exist. Studies and research point to the following differences in women’s and men’s use of transportation (4):

  • Modes of transportation: Men use cars more often than women, and women use more public transportation than men. Women are more likely than men to be in the passenger seat. Men have greater access to cars. Of those without a driving permit, 70 percent are women.
  • Travel distances: Men generally travel for longer distances than women, which can be partly explained by their greater access to cars. Another explanation for the difference is that people in higher labour market positions travel longer distances.
  • Travel patterns: A typical trip for a man is between home and work. Women are more likely to make trips with multiple stops, for example home-preschool-work-shop-preschool-home, and to drive children to school and free-time activities. Men take more business trips than women.
  • Timing of travel: Men are most likely to travel during rush hour and for longer distances. Women are more likely to travel outside the busiest times of day and to make more trips in the near vicinity.
  • Access to a car: Men have greater economic might and are more likely to have a driving permit, and therefore also have better opportunities for driving. The situation appears to be changing as more women enter the labour market – younger women are more likely to have a driving permit and a car than older women.
  • Attitudes: The relationship of women and men to cars and the environment is different. Women are more focused on functionality, men on engine capacity and performance. Men’s potential to drive more is higher than women’s, while women are more willing to use other modes of transportation in order to reduce their own car-use.


Factors beyond gender

As can be seen from the above, gender alone does not determine travel patterns. Living in an urban area, age and labour market position all contribute to transportation habits. The group responsible for the most travel are those aged 25–54 – an age group that includes a high proportion of wage earners. People with higher education travel the longest distances, while those with only basic education travel the shortest distances (5). Both men and women who live in rural areas drive more than those living in urban areas. High-income earners drive more frequently than low-income earners (6).

The question is whether declining gender differences will enhance other differences, for example those connected to class, age and ethnicity (7).


Is there a conflict between the environment and gender equality?

From a gender equality perspective one might think that women ought to emulate the transport patterns of men. But adding sustainability to the equation, increased car traffic is clearly not the solution we are looking for. It would be better for men to adapt to women’s travel patterns (8); the way that women use public transportation could be set as the norm, and both women and men could be encouraged to make shorter trips, use more public transportation, and to cycle and walk more often. This is something that must be supported when making infrastructure plans, in order to ensure more effective placement of workplaces and residential areas. Finally, it is important to focus on the heterogeneity contained in the categories of ‘women’ and ‘men’ in the context of transportation.


Picture: Colourbox


(1)  Oldrup & Breengard 2009:25:xx, Johnsson-Latham 2007:51

(2)  Coordination for Gender Research2007, Hamilton et al. 2006

(3)  Rosenbloom 2001:385-386

(4)  Coordination for Gender Research2007:44, Hamilton et al. 2006, Jakobsson Bergstad et al. 2009

(5)  SIKA 2009:42

(6)  Cedersund 2005:6

(7)  Dahl och Henriksson 2010:18

(8)  Polk 2009:78



Cedersund, H. & Lewin, C. 2005.Män och kvinnor i trafiken.En litteraturstudie. VTI rapport 522.

Coordination for Gender Research. 2007. Gender mainstreaming European transport research and policies – building the knowledge base and mapping good practices.Universityof Copenhagen.

Dahl, E. & Henriksson, M. 2010.Genusdimensioner i svensk kommunal planering och krishantering.En forskningsöversikt.VTI rapport 677.

Hamilton, G. et al. 2006.Women and transport.London:UniversityofEast Londonand Wuppertal Institute for Climate and Environment and Energy.

Jakobsson Bergstad, C. et al. 2009.Bilens roll för människors subjektiva välbefinnande.Centrum för konsumtionsvetenskap, Göteborgs universitet. CFK rapport 2009:2.

Johnsson-Latham, G. 2007.A study on gender equality as a prerequisite for sustainable development.Report to the Environment Advisory Council, Sweden 2007:2.

Oldrup, H. & Hvidt Breengaard, M. 2009.Gender and Climate Change. Nordic Council of Ministers.

Polk, M. 2009.Gendering climate change through the transport sector. Women, Gender and Research 3-4.

Rosenbloom, S. 2001. Sustainability among the elderly: An international assessment, in:Transportation28(4):375-408.

SIKA. 2009.SIKA Basfakta 2008.Övergripande statistik om transportsektorn. Statens institut för kommunikationsanalys (SIKA).

Skill, K. 2008.(Re)Creating ecological action space: householders' activities for sustainable development in Sweden. Linköping: Linköpings universitet, Linköping studies in arts and science.