Gender norms reinforce inequality in the workplace leading to a significant disparity in time spent commuting between men and women.

A new study, which uses data from 139,000 same-sex and different-sex couples, finds that working women in same-sex couples commute on average five minutes longer each day than women in different-sex couples, an 11% increase on the 46 minute average commute for women.

Working men in same-sex couples, in contrast, commute for around three minutes less each day than those in different-sex couples, a 5% decrease on the average daily commute for men of 56 minutes.

A similar disparity was revealed in an analysis of hours worked: women in same-sex couples worked 8% more hours per week than women in different-sex couples, while men in same-sex couples worked 5% fewer hours than those in different-sex couples.

Researchers believe the disparity is the result of gender norms shaping the balance between work and family life, which are particularly pronounced in heterosexual or different-sex couples.

These gender norms exert more pressure on women in different-sex couples to conform to a traditional ‘home-making’ stereotype that is likely to make them accept less well-paid jobs closer to home, whereas longer commutes and working hours is associated with higher wages, consistent with a ‘breadwinning’ male stereotype.

Parenthood exacerbated this disparity, particularly among married different-sex couples with children: married mothers in same-sex couples worked around 3.5 hours a week more than married mothers in different-sex couples, while married men in same-sex couples worked 2.3 hours fewer each week than their married counterparts in different-sex couples.

Within couples, the ‘commuting gap’ told the same story as there was less disparity in commuting times between partners in same-sex couples, while viewed as whole couples with two men had the longest total commute, followed by couples comprising two women, and then by different-sex couples.

The research used data from the American Community Survey spanning the years 2008-2019.

Sonia Oreffice, Professor of Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “All these work patterns support our interpretation that this commuting gap reflects gender-conforming social norms among different-sex couples rather than any biological difference between men and women or productivity difference across households. Indeed, same-sex couples may be more egalitarian and less subject to strong division of labour and work-family balance pressure than different-sex couples.”

Dario Sansone, Assistant Professor in Economics at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “Our analysis could inform policy makers and especially managers and executives tackling gender inequalities in the workplace.

“If managers are mindful of how these gender-conforming social norms still impact women’s work behaviour, they may be able to allow for more flexibility at work and offer more jobs and positions to women and mothers with less strict office schedules.”

Commuting to work and gender norms by sexual orientation” is published in Labour Economics.