Home View from Underground Graphic of the Day: Pregnant on the subway

Graphic of the Day: Pregnant on the subway

by Benjamin Kabak

I’ve always enjoyed pondering and writing about subway etiquette, and one of the more obvious areas of this field concern pregnant women. People on subway trains are notoriously adept at avoiding eye contact with others on the subway and often pretend they don’t see those who are pregnant. In fact, my girlfriend witnessed a pregnant lady board a crowded train along Queens Boulevard, and she couldn’t secure a seat for a stop or two.

To the highlight the problem, Elizabeth Carey Smith of The Letter Office charted her progress in the subway while pregnant and presented the results in graphic form. Click the image below for a much larger version.

Essentially, she found that people on the G train rarely gave up their seats while women on the 6 and men on the L were most forthcoming. More men than women gave up seats, and more people did so in the morning than in the evening. The graphic is a good reminder to those who aren’t or will never be pregnant: Give up your seat to those who need it.

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Jonathan R March 8, 2011 - 12:34 pm

I support the concept, but I think the poster is awfully ugly and unappealing.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 3:41 pm

Kudos to you Ben. I clicked on the “girlfriend” link embedded in the story. She’s a cutie!

Kim March 8, 2011 - 12:37 pm

I wonder how this experiment would work with the elderly, too…

Jesse March 8, 2011 - 1:00 pm

Unless I know that the train is going to have empty seats throughout my whole trip, I don’t even bother sitting down. It’s not just out altruism either, but also to avoid awkwardness. Before I started firmly taking this stance (harhar), I once offered my seat to a woman who I thought looked kind of old, and was slightly overweight. She impolitely refused the seat. I think she thought I was offering her the seat because she thought that I thought (that’s a lot of thoughts) she was pregnant. I actually offered it to her because I thought she looked old. I really had no way of explaining myself, though, as I couldn’t say, “I was offering it to you because you look old, not because you look pregnant.” So I stand now.

John March 8, 2011 - 5:34 pm

I’m with you. Unless the car is practically empty, I almost never sit down, because I don’t want to get into that situation where I’m “supposed” to give up my seat to someone else.

Victoria March 8, 2011 - 1:03 pm

I was constantly shocked at how infrequently someone would offer me a seat on a full train when my foot was broken and I was wearing my boot. Also, the other day two blind people got on my train and no one made a move to get up except for me (maybe I was too quick though…)

Marcus March 9, 2011 - 2:29 pm

Blind people don’t generally need to sit. Some may prefer it, just like anyone else, but there’s nothing about the disability that requires it, or even necessarily makes it more convenient.

I have a friend who would ride the train with me sometime who is blind. It was quite awkward because he usually preferred to stand, but would invariably get offered a seat anyway and sometimes would even get manhandled into the seat because the “upstanding citizen” assumed that he wanted to sit but could find where the seat being offered was.

AJF March 8, 2011 - 1:14 pm

Not to be too critical…but it seems that she meant the “B” or “D” trains on the map, connecting the 1 train to the E train (it seems as if she is switching at 59th Street/Columbus Circle and going to 53rd St-7th Ave). How would she have gotten from the 1 to the M, except at the same stop where she would have switched to the L?

Joe Steindam March 8, 2011 - 2:27 pm

Yeah, that appears to be an error on her part, especially since she notes which trains people were more or less likely to give her a seat, she did get wrong that part of the trip, as you noted it should be the B or D, not the M.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 2:35 pm

What I can’t figure out is how she managed to keep track of all this while “heavily pregnant”? Did she carry a notebook or laptop and mark down each station, line, day, time, and whether it was a man/woman who did or did not give her a seat? She did all this with a huge belly during rush hour? If she’s confused about whether she took the “M” at Colombus Circle (wrong) then her other figures are somewhat suspect.

Methinks she may not have been as obviously pregnant as she suggests, even with the silhouette that she admittedly says is her near the END of her pregnancy (which doesn’t mean she was that big during her ENTIRE pregnancy.

All this being said, just ask for a seat next time. Anyone who has an ounce of class (that is to say, most NYers) will give it up no problem.

Christopher March 8, 2011 - 3:44 pm

Or you know? A smart phone. This doesn’t seem all that hard to track.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 3:51 pm

True. My point is more that she set out to “prove” what she already believed, e.g. that a majority of riders don’t wanna give up a seat (or something to that affect). Another pregnant woman could ride the same trains at the same time and come up with totally different numbers. Seems very selective to me.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 4:05 pm

More like “subjective” than selective.

ajedrez March 9, 2011 - 11:15 am

Looking at that chart, she does mention taking the (B) to reach 7th Avenue for the (E) or (M) trains (I’m assuming that, at times, she also took the (B)/(D) to Rockerfeller Center to reach the (M))

Elizabeth March 8, 2011 - 7:00 pm

Yes, I did carry a notebook with me. Pregnant people can carry notebooks.

If you look at the poster, you’ll see that most people did, in fact, offer me a seat. And believe me, I was visibly pregnant. The project admittedly started out with a passive-aggressive tone, but the general finding was that New Yorkers are kind, not rude.

As for the trains, I took the E or the M across town from the G.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 9:36 pm

“If you look at the poster, you’ll see that most people did, in fact, offer me a seat”

It would have been a lot easier if you just said as much Elizabeth. That graphic is as confusing as an MTA service disruption poster and about as helpful. A big pie chart touting “Inconsiderate Train Lines” doesn’t exactly lead one to believe that a majority of trips ended with you getting a seat.

Trust however that, like most NYers, I’ll gladly give up a seat if needed.

Elizabeth March 8, 2011 - 9:58 pm

Said as much…where? And how? What’s wrong with making it into a poster?

I’m a designer; I did this project so I could make a poster…for myself, for friends, for my studio. The fact that it got picked up by a bunch of sites is great, but I have no idea why it seems to be causing such animosity.

stan March 9, 2011 - 3:20 pm

“total number of full trains recorded: 108

total number of offered seats: 88”

it’s right there in gigantic letters in the middle of the chart!

stan March 9, 2011 - 3:24 pm

my wife and i live on the G, and in her non-statistically documented opinion, the G was the train where she was least likely to have someone offer her a seat when she was pregnant.

i chalk it up to G passengers just being generally grumpier due to our horrific service and short trains.

on a brighter note, she did say that the G train subway conductors were generally gracious about holding the train for her so that she didn’t have to run to wherever it was on the platform that they decided to stop that day.

Eric March 8, 2011 - 1:25 pm

I usually have my nose in a book on the train. If you want my seat, just ask me for it. I hate passive-aggressiveness like this.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 2:06 pm

Seriously, most of us don’t look around every 5 seconds trying to spot old or pregnant folks, especially during rush hour when there are 100+ people on the same car.

Also, women tend to NOT want a seat when offered. I’ve seen older and/or pregnant women refuse the seat, making the guy offering it feel like some old-fashioned throwback. My biggest peeve, however, is when I do give up my seat and the lady gets off one stop later and some 16-year-old hops in the seat for the rest of the ride.

Really ladies, if you’re pregnant, infirm or just plain pooped, ask me for my seat and I’ll give it up no prob. The pregnant lady in question must have a lot of time on her hands to make such an ugly, confusing graphic (does she work for the MTA graphic arts dept?).

VLM March 8, 2011 - 2:08 pm

Why so nasty and sexist? Hopefully, one day, you’ll suffer a bad injury, need to sit and find a subway car fill of unsympathetic people. That would be perfect karmic retribution.

It doesn’t take any effort to be courteous and polite on the subway. Even “hardened” and “tough” New Yorkers like you can do it.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 2:20 pm

How the heck is me saying I’ll give my seat to any lady who asks for it nasty and sexist? Where did I say I was a “tought, hardened NYer?” When I said I don’t look around the car every day or that 16-year-old seat hoppers are a peeve of mine?

And BTW, I’ve been sick on the train before and made it home with the help of some very nice NYers, and I’ve been helpful in turn many times.

Christopher March 8, 2011 - 3:47 pm

Well I look up at every station to see who comes in. Perhaps it you were actually worried whether someone might need your seat you’d do this. But you’re not. You want someone who is already compromised to make the first step and ask for something. There’s no aspect of human psychology that says being temporary or permanently disabled makes it easier to ask people for help. I’d say it makes it harder. Be a man, and look out for your fellow riders.

pete March 8, 2011 - 9:31 pm

Why so nasty and sexist? Hopefully, one day, you’ll suffer a bad injury, need to sit and find a subway car fill of unsympathetic people.

Then sit on the floor like I do when there are no seats. Its not like the seats are any cleaner than the floor.

Metzger March 9, 2011 - 6:25 pm

Eric: “I hate passive-aggressiveness like this”
I’m not sure if you’re trying to be ironic. If you are, nicely done. If you’re not, you’re being a hypocrite.

Gary March 8, 2011 - 2:24 pm

I offer up my seat all the time (and my wife is currently in her third trimester). And I have, as a standee, shamed others into giving up a seat for pregnant women who were strangers to me. But note to women in the early stages of pregnancy – ASK! It is extremely uncomfortable to wrongly suggest to a woman that she is pregnant.

When a woman is obviously pregnant the decision process is a lot easier than at say three months. Especially in winter coat season.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 2:27 pm

Good point Gary. There have been a few women I’ve seen over the years who at first glance looked pregnant, but a second look showed they were just chunky. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut on those days!

Paul August 1, 2011 - 9:43 pm

Over the years I’ve been reading newspapers, message boards, etc., I keep seeing more and more people complaining about this issue. In all my years of riding public transportation, I have never seen a woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy, or an elderly person or someone on crutches hobble into a train and NOT be offered a seat. I think people complain about public transportation for the same reason as they complain about air travel: because they’re basically trapped in a small cramped space with hundreds of other strangers. But look, I personally hate driving and would love to live in a city where public transportation was an option. Instead of sitting behind a wheel, I could be in a subway car playing with my iPhone, reading a newspaper, or taking a cat nap on my way to/from work.

John March 8, 2011 - 2:59 pm

“Pretty Baby”, a 1950 Warner Bros. movie, pretty much spins it’s whole plot off a similar situation (also with some nice simulated scenes of an R-1/9 running on the E or F train along Queens Blvd.), although in this case it was a non-pregnant woman faking having a baby in order to finally get a seat on the subway. Anyway, the movie shows the problem of figuring out how to snag a seat on a train has been around for over 60 years.

Phil March 8, 2011 - 3:09 pm

I know it’s a bit beside the point, but if it’s your due date, you should be taxing a taxi.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 3:13 pm

True, but then she wouldn’t be able to prove her hypothesis and come up with an ugly graphic showing how impolite New Yorkers are. A pie chart proving New Yorkers are nice wouldn’t get as much attention.

VLM March 8, 2011 - 3:14 pm

You really seem to be taking this pie chart personally. As a male who will never get pregnant, why do you have such a bone to pick here? You have mother; she was once pregnant. Show a little respect.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 3:22 pm

VLM, the fact that you respond within 2 mins of my postings makes me think you’re looking to pick a fight. Please don’t take my postings personally, and go on Gothamist if you’re looking to stir up some trouble.

And FYI, my mother was not pregnant, I’m the spawn of the devil, don’tcha know!

Alon Levy March 8, 2011 - 3:44 pm

Or maybe he subscribes to the comments by RSS, or maybe he happened to refresh this thread just after you posted. Calm down.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 3:48 pm

Calm as a cucumber Alon, no need to get in on this. I make a comment, he jumps down my throat. Kinda annoying.

BBnet3000 March 9, 2011 - 11:36 am

Edward, you keep saying that she is out to prove how rude New Yorkers are, but this is an installment of a project to show that New Yorkers arent rude.

(The Please and Thank You Project by The Letter Office)

As for methodology and whatnot…. if this was being published in The American Sociologist i might be worried.

She had to stand 20/108 times. While we should try to bring those numbers down, its a somewhat small percentage. Do you just not like what she may be implying about the G, F and E trains?

Alon Levy March 9, 2011 - 6:55 pm

The appropriate percentage for standing is zero, unless the train has more pregnant women and disabled people than seats.

BoerumHillScott March 9, 2011 - 7:15 am

The baby would be in college before you could find a taxi in that area of the city.

I would recommend a car service, but over that distance they are much more expensive than taking the train.

Billy G March 8, 2011 - 3:51 pm

If I didn’t make you pregnant, I’m not getting up to give you my seat.

Unlike a cripple or an old crone, I infer that the state that you are in is by your own choice. Stand for your independence! Stand by your choices!

The Sun November 22, 2011 - 8:20 pm

“If I didn’t make you pregnant, I’m not getting up to give you my seat.”

Nice to know your dick is shoved up your mouth.
Gee, if more men thought like you, chivalry would’ve long since been dead.

Greg November 22, 2011 - 8:42 pm

That is if he even has a dick.

Vin March 8, 2011 - 7:11 pm

I not only give up my seat for the elderly and pregnant (though elderly is a tough one, how do you know that someone is old enough? I generally base it on whether they seem to have trouble moving around) but also for people with small children – it’s easier to keep an eye on them if they can sit – and large, cumbersome packages.

To those who say they should not be expected to notice their fellow riders on crowded trains: you are part of the problem. With large numbers of people moving around in our subways system (and in our city), it is really not too much to ask that you be mindful of those around you. Also, it’s not hard to see if an obviously pregnant woman boards the train near where you are sitting. You are not expected to give up your seat for people who board jam-packed trains all the way on the other side of the car.

pea-jay March 9, 2011 - 12:13 am

When my youngest was smaller and more easily carried there were a few times I was offered a seat when she was passed out asleep in my arms, which I appreciated greatly since keeping balance on a moving train that top-heavy was tough. Oddly most of those occurred on the E.

Quinn Hue March 8, 2011 - 9:16 pm

I don’t offer my seat, I just get up if I think someone needs it.

Zack November 22, 2011 - 8:40 pm

People like you make me sick. If you want to stay on your bum all day, buy a car! There you could be as much of a slob as you’d like, and you’ll gain weight in the process! Doesn’t that sound good? 🙂

Sun March 9, 2011 - 5:33 am

I would rather see a superimposed subway map with most helpful new yorkers based on each line.

If I see anyone needing the seat, I will get up and offer it visually (if I think we don’t speak the same language) or state the seat is available to the person I think may need it. That person can choose to sit or stand. Some are getting off the next stop so they don’t want it, but I think it’s nice to offer the choice.

Mary March 9, 2011 - 7:18 am

On the day I gave birth to my daughter (now 23) I rode back from Lennox Hill hospital from a visit to the doctor to take my son at a baby sitter’s (they said I would deliver that evening or the next day) to Bay Ridge Brooklyn. An hour subway ride — not a single person offered to let me sit down. I was nine months pregnant. I stood all the way. I was forty years old. Probably did me no harm, but I was astounded.

DY March 9, 2011 - 10:52 pm

I think this is the passive aggressive behavior that Eric was referring to above.

Spanky August 1, 2011 - 10:17 pm

I have a hard time believing that you were on the subway for over an hour (as you say) and not a single seat opened up from someone getting off.

BoerumHillScott March 9, 2011 - 7:19 am

Thanks Elizabeth for the observations/data collection.

While it is is obviously not scientific or comprehensive, it offers an interesting insight into subway etiquette.

The part that jumped out to me was the difference between morning and evening commutes. It matches what I have observed, but I did not know how much my observations were filtered through my own tiredness levels at the end of the work day.

Mary March 9, 2011 - 7:20 am

Perhaps the fact of pregnancy is too emotional for people to deal with. I can relate to that.

petey March 9, 2011 - 1:04 pm

men on the L are in touch with their feminine side.

Poof November 22, 2011 - 8:25 pm

So is your name.

Bluebell March 11, 2011 - 5:01 pm

I have visited New York many times. New Yorkers are some of the kindest, funniest people in the world. If you pay attention. No, you do not pester the stressed out guy on the phone to find out if you are on the right train. You talk to someone who looks like they have a little time for you. Pregnant ladies, you are going to have to ask for a seat. Not everyone cares about your condition. I don’t. It wouldn’t occur to me to give up my seat to you although I have frequently done so voluntarily for the elderly. And you won’t be getting off first, either, unless you have spoken to someone in front of you who says it’s ok. Passive aggressive is the correct phrase.

Michele D March 15, 2011 - 9:46 pm

In most cases you chose to get pregnant & knew what it entailed. Quit whining.

Spanky August 1, 2011 - 9:57 pm

Let me make sure I understand correctly. So in other words, pregnant women are the only ones who deserve special treatment on subway trains, right?

Men may not get pregnant (true), but we do get elderly, and sick and disabled. Some of us are unfortunate enough to have broken bones, casts and crutches. This may shock you but pregnant women aren’t the only ones who have back pains, joint pains, muscle aches, etc.,

And what about young children?

You would have a little more credibility if you weren’t advocating for just one particular tiny segment of the population.

Deuce November 22, 2011 - 8:29 pm

Thank you. I mean is it that hard just to be considerate of other people? If your feet don’t hurt anymore and you’re pretty much rested, then get your ass up! What? Train seats have your name on them now?

Max November 22, 2011 - 8:49 pm

Oh quit your whining, Spanky. What? Is having a penis not enough for you?

Hey Spanky, want some tissues for your suffering and tears? Here have two. Ooh, where are my manners, have my seat. You’re obviously carrying a human being inside of you.

billywms September 1, 2011 - 4:28 pm

if somebody decided to chop off their legs on purpose would you get up? pregnancy is not an illness or disability and even if it was why should i get up for you? did i make you pregnant or old or disabled-if someone is not any of those things would but is tired would you get up because they could use it more NO!!! First come First serve and there are no exceptions to somebody who is pregnant,or disabled,or old.

crotch_jenkins September 1, 2011 - 6:02 pm

Don’t be an ass. You’re supposed to punch the pregnant women in the face, not just ignore them.

Martin November 22, 2011 - 8:33 pm

Exactly!! And if someone is stabbed in the train, witnesses aren’t entitled to help the injured person or call 911, I mean seriously! Why should they? They’re not celebrities or anyone in your family, right?

You get me so well, dude.

Mock Successful

Subway etiquette in three easy parts :: Second Ave. Sagas September 6, 2011 - 1:45 am

[…] and don’ts. Other pieces have examined single-issues topics (including the ever-controversial pregnant lady conundrum). Doll’s list though is short, sweet and to the […]

Second Ave. Sagas: 2011 in review :: Second Ave. Sagas December 30, 2011 - 1:07 am

[…] Graphic of the Day: Pregnant on the Subway My top post this year was a hot-button topic. Elizabeth Carey Smith of The Letter Office presented […]

Randy December 30, 2011 - 8:23 pm

I supose that more people didn’t give up there seats in the evening is that they were tired after a full day of work. After reading some of the other comments it makes me realize how insensitive we have gotten today


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