Ridesharing and women: Benefits, barriers, and opportunities for progress

As the world comes together this week to press for progress on International Women’s Day, we’re pleased to share recent research about how ridesharing has served women riders and drivers around the world and the barriers preventing more progress. Led by the International Finance Corporation, the Driving Toward Equality: Women, Ride-Hailing, and the Sharing Economy report represents a data-driven deep dive into how women use Uber as riders and drivers in six countries: Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

Report Background

Though some progress has been made, gender disparities persist across geographies, cultures, and sectors. In most countries, women do not have the same access as men to basic needs and amenities, including transportation services [1,2] and work opportunities [3]. Ridesharing has the potential to lower barriers for women in both of these areas — by providing flexible work opportunities for drivers, and reliable on-demand transportation for riders. Over the years there’s been mixed, largely anecdotal evidence to support this hypothesis, along with problematic issues that continue to affect women’s participation, like cultural norms and security concerns.

The Driving Toward Equality report uses anonymized and aggregated data from Uber, surveys of more than 11,000 female and male users of the Uber app, and interviews with experts on gender, transportation, and the future of work. Combining best practices in qualitative and quantitative research, this is the first study of its kind to incorporate proprietary company data with a global reach. The ultimate goal was to take a candid look at if and how ridesharing has improved women’s lives in six countries (five of which are emerging markets), understand which barriers still exist, and explore data-driven recommendations to make the benefits of ridesharing available to all.

Where are the opportunities?

Previous research has quantified some of the benefits of ridesharing in the US: for instance, measuring the value of flexibility for drivers, and the consumer surplus (i.e. how much more a customer would be willing to pay than they actually did) for uberX riders. This new report echoes these findings in the six markets studied: drivers overall report flexibility as the most important reason they work with Uber, while riders cite cost transparency and the convenience of booking via the Uber app as benefits.

The results highlight how ridesharing has helped women enter — and specifically benefit from participating in — a traditionally male-dominated industry. For instance, although women tend to drive fewer hours than men overall, they report a higher income boost relative to what they were earning before they started driving with Uber. Some of this is due to women’s higher rates of unemployment and lower wages to begin with, and women who were previously in paid work report a somewhat smaller boost (but still higher than men on average). In fact, 90 percent of women drivers said their additional earnings allow them to buy products and services previously beyond their spending power. Women drivers also find the flexibility of driving with Uber especially important (it’s cited as a key benefit by 74 percent of women vs. 64 percent of men), perhaps reflecting the need for women to work around other commitments. Intriguingly, just over one in seven women drivers report having their own business on the side (compared to one in eight men); in focus groups, these entrepreneurs described how Uber not only provides additional income while they grow their businesses, but also helped them expand through networking and making new contacts.

The safety and security features inherent in the Uber app were cited as key benefits by women riders as well as drivers: for instance, 35 percent appreciate knowing the driver’s name and vehicle information in advance, while 29 percent cite trip tracking as a key benefit (compared to 23 percent and 20 percent of men, respectively). Along with the fact that women riders report a wider variety of use cases than men (including visiting relatives and friends, shopping, and accessing health services and childcare), the results show how ridesharing can help women gain a greater sense of independence and travel to places they couldn’t previously access. Nearly 40 percent of mothers say ridesharing helps them travel with their children.

What barriers do women face to driving and riding?

Progress only comes when we understand the reality of the challenges today. On the driver side, the most striking (and troubling) data point is the low participation of women: while just over 20 percent of active US drivers are women, this proportion is far lower in the six markets studied here. Mexico has the highest representation of women drivers at 5.2 percent; India is at the other extreme, with known active women drivers in the single digits during the study period. Women have long been underrepresented in the transportation industry (for instance, making up just 17.3 percent of the US transportation and material moving workforce [4], and 2 percent of London taxi drivers [5]) and as this research shows, many of these barriers apply to ridesharing.

Despite many women riders and drivers citing safety and security features as key benefits of the Uber app, concerns about personal security still emerged as a key barrier for both groups. A majority of women drivers who responded to the surveys believe that such concerns prevent more women from signing up as drivers, while 26 percent say that such concerns prevent them from driving more. Interestingly, women riders reported the lack of women drivers as one reason they don’t use Uber more often, highlighting an opportunity within this challenge: by increasing the proportion of women drivers, Uber becomes a more attractive option for women riders, potentially leading to a virtuous cycle where both supply and demand increase together.

The DTE report reiterates that many of the longstanding structural barriers that keep women from participating in the broader economy, including social biases and norms around women’s paid work, financial and digital inclusion, and access to vehicles and other assets, also apply to ridesharing. Nonetheless we can — and must — do better; this is indeed one of the key motivations for undertaking this project.

Advancing the Conversation

While there are no quick fixes, everyone in the rideshare space can benefit from this research. In order to find solutions that advance gender equality in ridesharing and the sharing economy more broadly, we must understand what has already worked and what hasn’t, along with the nature of the existing barriers. The full Driving Toward Equality report delves into these issues (and many others) with rich qualitative and quantitative data. We hope that these insights and recommendations will substantially advance the conversation and ultimately help Uber and other stakeholders build a ridesharing ecosystem that benefits all.