In The Neighborhood

How the built environment influences our mental health

How Your Commute Can Damage Your Relationships

The social consequences of traffic.

As someone who can spend up to two hours of my work day commuting, my heart often sinks when I read research about the negative health impacts of long commutes. Physical inactivity, divorce risk, and obesity are just some of the distressing outcomes recently linked with lengthy commute times.

And now research published in the Journal of Transport Geography pins yet another negative outcome on commute time – lower satisfaction with social contacts. Using a sample of 6,515 residents of Vienna, Austria, Elizabeth Delmelle, Eva Haslauer and Thomas Prinz found that adults with one-way commutes of at least 30 minutes had significantly lower satisfaction scores than those with commutes lasting less than a half-hour.

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The findings bolster other studies showing that lengthy commute times can lead to less time spent with family and friends. A 2012 study of male U.S. workers with daily round-trip commutes of at least 60 minutes found that adding an additional 60 minutes of daily travel time was associated with 21.8 fewer minutes spent with spouses, 18.6 fewer minutes spent with children and 7.2 fewer minutes spent with friends. (For females, a similar increase in commuting time was associated with a decrease of 11.9 minutes with friends, but no significant decrease in time with spouses or children.)

Undoubtedly, the relationship between commuting time and social satisfaction is complex. One of the benefits of working outside the home can be social interaction in the workplace. Aside from the sense of belonging that can arise from feeling part of a team, there are professional and personal benefits when colleagues are available to discuss problems and celebrate successes. Of course, not everyone is fortunate to have friendly and supportive work colleagues, and professional friendships are often unable to compensate for time taken away from family or other friends. 

Increasing one’s social satisfaction may not be as simple as moving closer to one’s workplace or finding work nearer to home, though. A 2013 study noted that social satisfaction may be influenced by a number of related factors, such as local population density, the availability of public transit, neighborhood socioeconomic status and area crime rates. 

Given the many factors which determine where we live and work, finding the right home and workplace, and the ideal distance between them, can be challenging. Personally, I can’t see my commute changing any time soon. Instead, I’ve discovered podcasts and their ability to make even the most tiresome commute more enjoyable. (Others may prefer listening to music.) Another increasingly popular option is negotiating flexible working arrangements that enable avoidance of peak rush-hour traffic and reduce their commute time. 

If you travel a lengthy distance to a job you dislike, the realization that long commutes have been associated with less social satisfaction may be the impetus you need to start looking for a new position.

Your family and friends may thank you for it.

 

References

Christian TJ. Automobile commuting duration and the quantity of time spent with spouse, children, and friends. Preventive Medicine. 2012;  55:215–218.

Delmelle EC, Haslauer E & Prinz T.  Social satisfaction, commuting and neighborhoods.  Journal of Transport Geography. 2013; 30:110-116.

Jacinta Francis, Ph.D., is a Research Associate with the Centre for the Built Environment and Health at The University of Western Australia.

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