Thursday, October 8, 2009

States where women berely dare

Yesterday Streetsblog tweeted about a Treehugger post that uses the recently released commuting data from the census American Community Survey to compare women's commuting patterns by states.
The most dismal U.S. states to bike in, if we count simply by the number of women declaring to the census that they use a bike to get to work, are Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama, and Arkansas. Puerto Rico, also surveyed on the question, was similarly quite dismal. Mississippi had just 209 declared female cycling commuters, Delaware just 210, while West Virginia had 326, Alabama had 431, and Arkansas had 461. Puerto Rico declared 318 female cyclists.

The numbers are interesting, but it's important to keep in mind that unlike the regular census, this is a sample, with the possibility of sampling error. If we look at the actual data, the picture is a bit different. Delaware may have just 210 estimated women bicycle commuters, but that number has a margin of error of +/-187, meaning that the number could be as low as 23, or as high as 397. Keep this in mind when you're reading the rest of these figures.

The absolute numbers also tell only part of the story. If Delaware has only 210 women bicycle commuters, it also only has 873,092 people, 201,587 of whom are female commuters. It's the proportion of bicycle commuters among all female commuters that is really comparable from one state to another. If we consider Delaware's 0.10% figure (that's a tenth of one percent), the state rises from second lowest to ninth lowest, and Alabama (0.044%) drops from fifth lowest to second lowest.

In terms of proportion of women commuting by bicycle, the worst states are actually Mississippi (0.036%), Alabama, Tennessee (0.047%), Missouri (0.071%) and Arkansas (0.075%) - pretty much an Ozark-Delta-Appalachian belt of nastiness towards female cyclists. The best state by that measure is Oregon, with 1.4% of women commuting by bike. The next is D.C. (1.2%) and then a Rocky Mountain belt with Hawaii thrown in. So we know it's not the mountains.

In the Treehugger post, blogger April Streeter observes that 41% of all bike commuters in Rhode Island are women. That's an interesting number, but instead of the simple percentage of all cyclist commuters, a better estimate of the relative popularity of bike commuting between genders is the ratio of the proportions of bike commuters out of all commuters in each gender. Rhode Island's ratio is in fact high: 0.74% of women ride bikes to work for every 1% of men doing it. However, Vermont (0.86) and Utah (0.85) are even better. New England seems to be a good place for gender equality in bike commuting: both New Hampshire and Maine had 0.72% of women per 1% of men. Massachusetts (0.46) doesn't do as well, though, and neither does Connecticut (0.34) or New York (0.37).

The worst female-male ratios included most of our Graceland belt, with the worst in the country being - yup - Mississippi with only 0.08% of female bike commuters per 1% of males. Arkansas breaks from the belt with 0.43, but joining the bottom five are Puerto Rico (0.12) and Nevada (0.15). Tennessee had 0.18, Missouri 0.21 and Alabama 0.22 - but our friend Delaware is tied with Alabama.


Jonathan said...

That's kind of a clunky measurement, ratios of proportions. I think female bike commuters divided by female commuters would give you a better idea of how attractive the state's bicycling facilities were to women. Thanks for an interesting post.

Cap'n Transit said...

Jonathan, the idea is to compare the attractiveness of the facilities to women vs. their attractiveness to men. If you don't compare those, you don't know whether the state just has lousy facilities overall (like New Hampshire and Rhode Island) or whether it's particularly hostile to women (like Nevada).

Jonathan said...

"ratio of the proportions of bike commuters out of all commuters in each gender. Rhode Island's ratio is in fact high: 0.74% of women ride bikes to work for every 1% of men doing it."

Compare percentages like that is meaningless. Line up three RI women and four RI men, what do those men and women represent? They don't represent bike commuters. The women represent a fraction of all women commuters, and the men represent a fraction of all male commuters. Those two fractions are not related and you can't compare them quantitatively, as your post attempts to do.

I'm not disputing that there are more men than women riding to work in RI, just that you can compare those figures quantitatively.

Cap'n Transit said...

Jonathan, what I'm saying is that Rhode Island alienates only a few more potential female bike commuters than males. It's not lining up three women and four men, it's 3% of the commuting women and 4% of the commuting men. It's a way of isolating gender from the other variables - including gender participation in the workforce overall.

Anonymous said...

Has this been screened according to who ferries the kids to daycare, who shops for dinner that night on the way home from work, etc? That used to be a big reason women drove to work, as soon as they had the chance.