Every woman has been there: You leave the table at a restaurant, seats at the concert or even your desk at the office to use the restroom—only to find that the women’s line is infinitely longer than the men’s.
You may have even snuck into the men’s washroom a time or two to avoid the wait.
But never fear: In 2017, researchers from Ghent University in Belgium took a look at this “queuing” problem.
They figured out how to cut women’s bathroom wait times by more than half—and the solution is surprisingly simple.
First of all, the Ghent University researchers studied why women’s bathroom queues take so much longer, and discovered that the problem can be explained by three main factors.
1. Men’s Rooms Accommodate More Occupants
Stalls take up more space than urinals do, so a men’s bathroom can, on average, actually accommodate 20 to 30 percent more users than the same-sized women’s bathroom.
Losing just one toilet space in a bathroom can increase the wait time by about 172 percent, according to the researchers.
2. More Time Spent
Women spend more time in the restroom, generally due to practical reasons, with women taking 1.5 to two times as long in the bathroom as men do. While men spend a minute heading in and using the urinal, women usually need to open and close stall doors, remove more clothing, and clean toilet seats—and that precious time adds up.
When you factor in the extra time it takes women to use the restroom AND the fact that there are fewer toilets available, you see a big difference in the wait times for men and women.
3. Less Space + More Time Spent = Longer Lines
The third reason, researchers found, was how busy restrooms were. Since women had less space and took longer in the bathroom, busy periods—such as during lunch breaks or at the end of a work day—amplified wait times for women.
In other words, it’s already worse for women than men. But when the system is stressed—say at the end of a sporting event—the wait times for women get out of control.
After identifying the reasons behind women’s longer wait times, the researchers used several simulated layouts in order to try and fix the problem. They found that doubling the number of toilets available to women evened the wait times between genders, but that would require installing double the amount of toilets for women.
However, another solution seems easier and more effective: “The holy grail,” the researchers wrote, “is to use unisex toilets.”
A unisex approach (with two stalls to one urinal) would allow men to use urinals and both genders to use bathroom stalls—and it would reduce overall wait times by a whopping 63 percent.
A wait time that’s more than halved? Now that’s something we can all get on board with.
The scientists believe this solution can cut the average wait time from about 6 minutes to less than 90 seconds!
Of course, there’s been lots of debate about unisex bathrooms recently. But just for a minute, set aside your political beliefs, and think of all those poor woman silently mouthing “I gotta pee” to each other while they wait in mile-long lines.
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