There’s a mathematical reason why women take so long in the bathroom – and science has a solution

If you’ve ever been to a festival or gig, you’ll know that queues for female bathrooms are always longer than those for men. Anecdotally, women also seemingly take longer to use the bathroom than men.

Now, not only has maths discovered the reasons why, but it also offers a simple solution.

According to the study by Ghent University, the average layout of bathrooms in public spaces has 20% to 30% more toilets for men because urinals take up less space than stalls. As a result, the average wait time for women currently lasts more than six minutes, while men only wait 11 seconds on average.

One reason why women wait longer is they use stalls, not urinals, so it takes extra time to lock the door, undress and reverse the process when done. Wait times are also affected by how crowded the bathroom is, and male bathrooms typically have more toilets than female bathrooms, according to the study’s analysis.

To solve this problem, specifically the latter, Kurt Vanhautegem and Wouter Rogiest, the duo who led the study, designed six bathroom layouts and used computer simulations to determine how long the wait time would be for women and men in each case. Some of the layouts had separate toilets for men and women, while others included mixed toilets.

The computers simulated 2,000 people using each layout more than 1,000 times. The layout that resulted in the shortest wait time for women – about one-and-a-half minutes – had 14 mixed toilets and eight urinals. The full gender-neutral layout had 20 toilets, and everyone had the same wait time of two minutes and 10 seconds.

“I think we are definitely not the first to notice this problem,” Vanhautegem and Rogiest told Alphr. “For us, like for many others, this was especially obvious on festivals and busy public places. As this optimisation problem apparently hadn’t had that much attention yet by others, at least not from a mathematical point of view, we decided to study it in more detail.”

The trend that women wait in longer queues for the bathroom has been cleverly coined as “potty parity” and met with public remorse. In May, for example, some women’s bathrooms were converted into men’s bathrooms at a Canadian stadium. It resulted in 30-minute wait times for female fans at a hockey game and, of course, a backlash on social media.

Vanhautegem said the layouts from the study can be used in stadiums, for examples, and change can be immediately implemented at temporary attractions, such as festivals. 

“It is a great setting to show that mathematics can be applied to everyday and socially relevant topics,” he said.

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