Warning: Commutes May Be Hazardous to Your Marriage
You already know that long commutes can take a toll on your peace of mind and your paycheck, especially with gas prices as high as they are right now. But the big news is that recent research shows those who have long-distance commutes run a 40 percent higher risk of ruined relationships than those who don't.
A study done by social geographer Erika Sandow at Umeå University shows that even though income and careers often benefit from commuting, social costs are incurred and cannot be overlooked. Long commutes also can mean less time for family and friends, and can lead to stress and health problems.
Sandow conducted the study in Sweden, where 11 percent of the population takes at least 45 minutes to get to work, many commuters are parents of small children and live with their partner, and most long-distance commuters are men. The study showed, however, that women are the most adversely affected by the long commutes.
The study revealed that income benefits garnered from long-distance commutes are greater for men. For this reason, in many Swedish two-income families, the woman is the one who opts for the local job. As the study notes, it's common for women to take a less qualified job close to home, or to start working part-time so that both parents will not be commuting and someone will have time to take the kids to and from day care. Women in these situations often become the partner responsible for the majority of child-rearing.
Because of this, expanding work regions primarily benefit the careers of men, and continued increases in long-distance commuting may preserve and reinforce gender differences in the home and in the job market. But those (few) women who do commute long distances gain new career opportunities and higher pay, according to Sandow.
But more money isn't everything. Sandow points out that previous studies have shown that women who commute long distances experience more stress and time pressure, and feel less successful in their work, than men who commute.
Sandow's findings indicate that long-distance commuters run a 40 percent higher risk of separating than others, and it's the first years of long-distance commuting that are the most trying for a relationship.
"We don't know what long-distance commuting will lead to in the long run and what price we'll have to pay for economic growth," says Sandow. "It's important to highlight the social consequences that commuting entails. For instance, how are children affected by growing up with one or both parents commuting long distances to work?" Apparently it's not just the parents' relationship that may suffer.
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