The mystery of female cycling

Amongst children, boys and girls, the participation rate for cycling is the same, which is known as “parity”. Amongst women in the ACT, and typical for low cycling countries, men are much more likely to cycle than women. The question should be, perhaps, not why women cycle less, but rather why girls in adolescence stop cycling.

What changes with girls in adolescence?

The National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021 is interesting as it is a household survey that includes children. We often talk about men and women and that is because most of our data is for adults. Children are a very interesting group, both primary school and secondary school. The age grouping for this study is 0-9 years and 10-17 years which overlaps the last years of primary school but captures the childhood and adolescents well. The cut-off at 18 is helpful too as most Australian get a driver’s licence as soon as they can – a rite of passage.

Clearly, the rapid drop from childhood to adolescence for girls needs to be researched more thoroughly. This is not the case in the Netherlands. Something is going on here in Australia. This phenomenon is not typical for females in general, but rather Australian school girls. The boy in contrast continue cycling right through their adolescence. It requires further research.

Our cycling habits are formed in childhood, but in Australia they are lost before adulthood. Getting a driver’s licence seems to be the death knell for cycling. 😦

The full picture

The data from the National Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021 shows that male and female cycle participation in the last week is identical for girls and boys (children) ages 0-9 years (see figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group). For the 10-17 year old group (adolescence), the boys continue to cycle but the cycle participation of the girls has dropped off by half. For the adult groups, 18 years and above, the cycling participation is stable and low, with cycling more common in men than women – typical for low cycling countries.

What we see here is for females the cycling participation drops by half from the 0-9 year to 10-17 year age group, and drops by half again from 10-17 years to 18-29 years. For males, cycling participation is unchanged until adulthood (leaving school) and drops suddenly to about a third (comparing the 10-17 year and 18-29 year age groups).

Cycle participation in the last week

Figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group. National Report, ACT Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021,18.
Male and female, cycle participation in the last week. Figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group. National Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021, 18.

Comparing the data with cycling participation in the last year shows a much lesser effect for adolescent girls of 10-17 years. We can conclude that adolescent girls still cycle but not as much as they did when they were children (0-9 years). They do not suddenly stop cycling. Adolescent girls still have bikes but they do not use them as much. Boys however are likely to use the bike, if anything, slightly more.

Cycle participation in the last year

Figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group. National Report, ACT Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021,18.
Comparison with the last year. Male and female cycling participation. Figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group. National Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021, 18.

It is notable that the participation rate is similar among young children of both genders but that participation declines rapidly among female teenagers and there remains a gap in participation between genders among all adult age groups.

National Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021, 18.
Figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group. National Report, ACT Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021,18.
Figure 3.9 Cycling participation by gender and age group. National Report, National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey 2021, Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ), 27 July 2021, 18.

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