Bicycling and Gender

I was considering doing an impressionistic, Copenhagen-inspired post about how urban bicycling in the United States has a kind of “daredevil” quality to it that tends to leave it a male-dominated pursuit versus what you see in Copenhagen or Denmark where it’s common to see mom lugging a kid along at a modest pace in a very safe lane:

woman-cycling-in-long-beach 1

Then I sort of thought the better of it since I didn’t have any data and it’s usually best not to just rely on crude stereotypes. Fortunately, Scientific American came to the rescue with a better-supported investigation of this question:

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’–just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

There we go! That’s via Courtney at Feministing who comments:

Women, generally-speaking, are less likely to utilize bike lanes set in high-traffic areas, but in parks, low-traffic roadways, and the like, they are nearly 50% of riders. The enduring gender role differences also play a role here. Women who need to strap on some kids, groceries, or other precious cargo, need urban infrastructure that makes that easier (who wants to be carting a toddler around in the middle of honking, dangerous traffic?). European cities, many of which are more consciously planned around safe, cargo-laden biking, have much higher raters of women riders.

Of course, I also know some NYC-based badass women bicyclists (Christy Thornton!), who are neither risk-averse, nor lugging babes, so I wonder how they would feel about assumptions like these. Your thoughts?

Obviously many women don’t have babies. But it’s equally clear that there are a lot of babies in the world and the responsibility for caring for them does, in practice, primarily fall on women. And differential risk-assessment (whatever its origin) is probably the element of gendered psychology that’s most clearly supported by real research. So the causal hypothesis makes sense,.