Gender, Mental Health and Travel - Making Travel Choices

By Alison Holland

Published: January 10, 2022

Supporting people and organisations to make more sustainable travel choices is at the very heart of what we do at Brightwayz. Here, we share fascinating findings from a 2021 research paper into how gender, mental health and travel choices are linked …

Why and how do men and women with mental health conditions choose their modes of travel? That is the topic of a recent 2021 university research paper, which finds that men and women make very different travel choices and concludes that implementing improvements to increase confidence when travelling could help to reduce gender inequalities.

Roger L Mackett, Emeritus Professor of Transport Studies at University College London, published ‘Gender, Mental Health and Travel’ in September 2021 – surveying people with mental health conditions and concluding that gender, mental health and travel choices are intrinsically linked.
The paper provides a fascinating insight into the relationship between a person’s gender, mental health status and how they perceive and choose modes of travel.

Here are just a few interesting highlights from the paper:

Women Value Flexibility

The results suggest that women choose modes of transport that allow them greater control over their journeys (timing for family reasons, safety concerns, flexibility to allow for diversion – shopping needs and more). Perhaps not surprisingly, cars are therefore their most common choice, especially for women living in more rural areas. Compounding any issues with choosing public transport over the car, is the lack of staffing for queries, safety and reassurance.
The trend towards reduced staff at stations, on board trains and alterations to bus services is an obstacle to people with mental health conditions, in particular women.

Travel training

Professor Mackett observes that travel training would benefit all and suggests this is something companies and businesses should look at to reduce anxiety and also improve their carbon footprint.

Questions to Consider: 

Questions planners should think about to ensure their services are appealing to the widest range of travellers and to encourage people to make sustainable choices include, Professor Mackett says:

  • Are the routes logical, efficient and well-lit?
  • Is there adequate information about the routes and times published in a variety of formats?
  • Is there a place or a person that can be contacted in case of a question or issue – is this information readily available?
  • Is information on the progress of the journey/ approaching stop/ safety information clearly displayed on board the transport?
  • Is there provision for travel training available for local residents, schools, businesses?

Addressing Travel Anxieties

The key findings are fascinating:

  • More women than men have panic attacks, although more men than women have communication difficulties.
  • More women than men are prevented by their mental health condition from leaving home, using bus, rail and metro and from buying rail tickets in advance.
  • Significantly more women than men suffered from the following anxieties when travelling: the need for support, wayfinding, interacting with fellow travellers and concerns about the failure of the bus, train or car. 
  • For women, the greatest need seems to be policies and actions that will increase their confidence when travelling such as access to staff when assistance is required and clear information when travelling, plus the opportunity to receive travel training.
  • More men than women wanted improvements to the travelling environment, such as less clutter on the street.

Considerations for Travel Planners

In conclusion, it is crucial that travel planning takes the mental health and gender of travellers into consideration.
Read the full report here.

This is just a taste of some of the practical implications of this research. Other issues covered include having decent loos for people travelling reduces worries and makes the mode of transport more attractive. Also, it is interesting to see that childhood habits affect the confidence to travel as adults - boys spending more time outside as children than girls gives them more confidence as adults on public transport.

By delivering effective travel training eg through events or one to one sessions you can help people overcome these barriers. 

For the longer term, making sure children spend more time outside can impact their travel confidence in later years - so schemes such as Play Streets can help this.

If you are involved in delivering travel training sessions and are looking for great resources for your events, see our eye-catching range of products to support these measures and carry your campaign message. For adults: www.brightwayz/products. For children:

Interested in how we can support your active travel initiatives? Please get in touch today.