Those who can, telecommute. Those who can’t, wish they could.
I lived in New York City for two decades and walked to and from work just about every day. I was fond of saying, “I don’t know about reincarnation, but becoming anything other than a commuter will be okay by me.” Leaving New York for Miami was just as easy. I drove 6 miles each way across a spectacular causeway from Key Biscayne to the first building to the left on the mainland.
More recently, however, having moved to St. Petersburg, I took a job east of Tampa – a 57-mile drive each way. I lasted 4½ days, as it occurred to me that every nickel of my good-paying gig was going to have to go for a new car, and I already like the one I’m driving now. Turns out, according to New York magazine’s Marissa Dall, I knew what I was talking about. For once. But enough about me, let’s get to the data.
In Ms. Dall’s blog, she writes about the soul sucking truth involved with commuting and it gives me great pleasure – ah, schadenfreude – to share her findings with you. Each week, an average New Yorker spends six hours and 18 minutes commuting, well above the national average of four hours and 11 minutes.
With this in mind, Ms. Dall took a deep dive into the scientific literature on commuting. Here are the facts she found on the daily routine, and the variety of ways it’s sucking the soul right out of you. (The short version is: Commuting is mostly terrible and you should probably work from home if you can.)
The worst thing you’ll do all day is drive
Social scientists Daniel Kanneman and Alan B. Krueger surveyed about 900 women in Texas, asking which of their daily activities made them happiest. At the very bottom of the list — worse than working or cleaning house — was the morning commute. (The evening commute, incidentally, is the third worst thing you’ll do all day, according to this sample.)
You’ll never get used to it
It’s awful every day, but each day carries its own particular awfulness. “You can’t adapt to commuting, because it’s entirely unpredictable,” says Harvard University psychologist David Gilber. “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”
But you’ll be happiest if you walk, bike, or take the train
People who commute in these three ways are more satisfied with their commutes than people who drive, take the bus, or take the subway, according to a McGill survey of 3,377 commuters in Montreal.
A longer commute might even ruin your marriage
A decade-long study of 2 million married people in Sweden found that couples with long commutes — defined here as 45 minutes, by car — were 40 percent more likely to divorce than couples who never commuted.
Time spent commuting is time spent not exercising
Also: not cooking and not sleeping. According to an analysis of data culled from five years of the American Time Use Survey, “Each minute spent commuting is associated with a 0.0257 minute exercise time reduction, a 0.0387 minute food preparation time reduction, and a 0.2205 minute sleep time reduction.” And when people with long commutes do exercise, they tend to do so at lower intensity than people with shorter commutes. After all, who has the energy for intervals after fighting your way on and off the train?
A lengthy commute might make people less politically active
Researchers used data from a Georgetown University survey of a thousand Americans, with questions that covered a wide variety of topics, including work, commute length, and political participation (defined as voting and donating money to a political organization or group, among other things). And they found that the more time people spent commuting, the less likely they were to be politically active. Compared to someone who works from home, a person with an hour-long commute is 12 percent less likely to participate in politics, according to their findings.
How telecommuters have it made, by the numbers
When compared to “extreme commuters” — those whose total daily commute time exceeds three hours, people who work from home sleep 44.7 minutes more and spend 63 percent more time exercising. (The average commute — 50 minutes — doesn’t have quite so dire an impact, resulting in only 11.03 minutes of lost sleep and just 1.29 minutes of lost exercise relative to telecommuters.)
Money helps matters, though
A relatively famous study suggested that, all else being equal, for a person with an hour-long commute to be as happy as a telecommuter, the commuter’s salary would have to be 40 percent higher than their work-from-home buddy’s.
There is at least one good thing about commuting
For some, report researchers at the University of California Transportation Center, the ride home is a time to decompress, let go of work stress, and make the transition back to home life.
I’ve been telecommuting off and on now for about 10 years and, please, believe me, it’s nice work if you can get it!