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The two theories you hear bandied about the most are fear and fashion.
A widely cited 2009 study found that women are more likely to choose to ride on quiet residential streets, while men are more likely to choose direct routes even if they have heavier traffic. Women are an "indicator species" for cycling, this study concludes, and that cities can cajole greater women ridership by building safer-feeling bike infrastructure.
Much is also made of another concern women often express in surveys -- that cycling to work will impede our ability to conform to professional norms in clothing, makeup, and hairstyles. The response can be seen in the proliferation of the "Cycle Chic" brand, tweed rides, and the commingling of bicycling and high fashion in advertising.
There's plenty of truth in both the fear and fashion theories. But before we commit to blaming women's transportation practices on our timidity and vanity, I think it's worth looking at some other potential factors.
Like the economy.